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Text 2 Film: A Character Study From Horatio Hornblower – Midshipman Kennedy

Ryan Peterson is a film enthusiast and writer who enjoys anything with a good story. Movies, books, even video games.

“Welcome to Purgatory.” - Mister Midshipman Kennedy  (First line spoken to Horatio Hornblower upon boarding the Justinian [A&E production])

“Welcome to Purgatory.” - Mister Midshipman Kennedy (First line spoken to Horatio Hornblower upon boarding the Justinian [A&E production])

Kennedy's Kontribution

One of C.S. Forrester's most beloved and treasured creations would have to be the Horatio Hornblower books, published in a series of eleven volumes from 1937 to 1966. Though it is actually the sixth book published in the series, the first of these novels, chronologically speaking, is Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, documenting the earliest portion of the career of its title character. However, Horatio Hornblower, being the hero and title character, got the lion's share of the character development, leaving many of the other characters by the wayside. Mister Midshipman Kennedy was one such character. However, when A&E produced the Hornblower books as a series of four made-for-TV movies, Kennedy was finally able to step out of Hornblower's shadow and claim his rightful share of true character development.

When A&E decided to make their own production of the Hornblower series, they wisely chose not to follow the novels in their publication order, but their chronological succession. Part of the reason for this is that the actor that they chose to play Hornblower—indeed all the actors that they wished to use in more than one of the stories—would quite naturally get older as time progressed, making it more difficult to produce the earlier stories later on. Therefore, they took the events from Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and turned them into the beginning of the Hornblower film series.


Kennedy, the Third Person

If you were to read a plot summary of the book, Kennedy's name wouldn't even be mentioned. In fact, there would be very few names mentioned other than Horatio Hornblower's. This is because, with rare exceptions, none of the other characters in the story do much of anything to warrant mention of their names. They are given names in the book, but only to help the narrative. This is a symptom of the third person narrative used by the author.

The novel tells the story as an outside observer, but filtered through the first person lens as nothing is told the audience that Hornblower himself is not also made aware of. This form of telling has the effect of truly drawing the reader in and making him or her begin to feel that they are part of the action, sitting alongside Hornblower on the ship. However, a side-effect of this narrative voice is that the secondary characters of the story get glossed over. They do not get nearly the same attention that Hornblower is given.

With the third person narrative style, particularly when it focuses so intently on just one character, it becomes easier to introduce a minor character with much less establishing background. The reader simply accepts that this person is who he is said to be. For instance, the first time that Kennedy is even mentioned in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Forrester writes almost nothing at all about Kennedy himself. Indeed, that first scene with Kennedy comprises almost the entirety of Kennedy's role in the book itself when he writes:


Kennedy took off his hat with a flourish and bowed low as his dancing master had once taught him, left foot advanced, hat down by the right knee. Hornblower entered into the spirit of the game, laid his hat against his stomach and bent himself in the middle three times in quick succession....

“Most grave and revered signor,” said Kennedy. “I bear the compliments of Captain Sir Ed'ard Pellew, who humbly solicits Your Gravity's attendance at dinner at eight bells in the afternoon watch.”

“My respects to Sir Edward,” replied Hornblower, bowing to his knees at the mention of the name, “and I shall condescend to make a brief appearance.”

“I am sure the captain will be both relieved and delighted,” said Kennedy. “I will convey him my felicitations along with your most flattering acceptance.”

Both hats flourished with even greater elaboration than before, but at that moment both young men noticed Mr. Bolton, the officer of the watch, looking at them from the windward side, and they hurriedly put their hats on and assumed attitudes more consonant with the dignity of officers holding the warrants of King George. (96)

But What Was the Point of That?

In this quick scene, we are shown that these two have very clearly formed a firm, comfortable friendship. When Hornblower sees what Kennedy is doing, he joins in on the game without missing a beat, but they remain conscious of the improper nature of the event. They are comfortable with each other amid their impropriety.


In the book, since we rarely see Kennedy at all, and never in any truly important deed or event, this friendship serves to illustrate Hornblower more than it does Kennedy, since we can finally see him fitting in. After all, the story is more about Hornblower even than what he does, so that is all that the reader is concerned with.

In the filmed version, however, this blending of third and first person narrative voices is not quite possible. Cheats can be made to create the feeling that the audience is in the action or seeing from the perspective of Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd), but we cannot get into his head nearly as easily as we can in written form. In fact, the narrative voice inherent to film almost guarantees that the secondary characters in the story are given a much higher level of character development than in writing. In a book, a character can be mentioned in passing and then never mentioned again for the rest of the scene, though it may be assumed that they remain in the background. In the film, the character cannot simply vanish from the audience's sight without a justifiable reason. This means that the audience is much more aware of what they are doing during the scene. Impressions are being made to some extent about every single character visible on the screen.


Insight into Horatio's Head

For this reason, it becomes much more important to introduce into the story a character that can remain, fairly constantly, at Hornblower's side. Amid these changing scenes, Archie Kennedy (Jamie Bamber)—along with the crew of seamen that Hornblower is given authority over—remains one of the constants that one can measure Hornblower against. This is important since we no longer get a direct insight into his head. By showing us the intricacies of the relationship and trust that develops between these two, we get that insight that has been lost in the adaptation process.

It is exactly for this reason that, in Horatio Hornblower: the Duel (Hornblower: the Even Chance in Great Britain) Kennedy is the first person to greet Hornblower and welcome him aboard the Justinian. In fact, in the book, Kennedy is never mentioned as having ever served aboard that ship, either with or without Hornblower.

Aside from introducing Kennedy earlier in the movies than he was in the book, certain events and acts are also attributed to Kennedy that, in the book, were originally attributed to completely different people or overlooked entirely. By so doing, the film makers were able to create a much more intriguing character than one could ever have suspected from the text alone, along with better explain certain actions that take place in the story.

In the book, Kennedy is presented as being no more and no less than Hornblower's friend. This is a fine thing to be in the book. But there is no truth revealed, no attention truly captured and no compassion evoked. He is simply there for Hornblower to speak with and react to.

In the film, however, we can come to know many intriguing facts about Kennedy's past and background while still remaining very true to the original work.

For instance, we learn that Kennedy is a fan of the theater. This fact is pointed out explicitly in the episodic movie The Duchess and the Devil, when Kennedy recognizes the “duchess” as the actress Katherine Cobham. However, we get hints elsewhere.


When Hornblower and his fellow midshipmen on the Justinian are awaiting their possible transfer, Kennedy comes to them with the good news by saying “We few, we fortunate few, … Keene has recommended our transfer to Indefatigable,” paraphrasing King Henry's line from Henry V, act IV, scene iii, line 60, where he says “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” In fact, in the sixth movie in the series, Retribution, Kennedy reports on the result of a shot on a Spanish ship by shouting “A hit, a hit, a palpable hit!” paraphrasing Osric's “A hit, a very palpable hit,” from Hamlet, Act V, scene ii, line 281.

A Perfect Fit?

One of the most significant additions that the filmmakers made to the character development of Kennedy, is also the most intrinsically intriguing: Kennedy's seizures. As mentioned before, Kennedy was not present on the Justinian in the book. By adding Kennedy to the midshipman's berth, the filmmakers are able to accomplish a double feat.


With Kennedy in the crew, they can intensify the effect of Simpson's tyranny. One night, Kennedy wakes the midshipmen by entering into a very noisy seizure. After helping Kennedy work through the event, Hornblower asks Midshipman Clayton “What ails him?” In response, Clayton throws a quick glance and a nod in Simpson's direction and replies “What ails us all?” Kennedy's fits then become a clear-cut result of what can happen if one is subjected to Simpson's rule for a long time. It goes to show the incredibly psychological effect that he has on his fellow Midshipmen.

Once Kennedy has been introduced and his fits explained, the instance later on, when the crew of the Indefatigable goes after the Papillon, has a much more understandable tone to it. In the original story, there is simply a man who has a fit in the boat. In the film, however, since Kennedy has only recently been re-introduced to Simpson who has volunteered to go in with the boats, the fit that Kennedy has in the boat becomes both more believable and more pitiable. We have learned to feel for Kennedy, so it is heart-wrenching that Hornblower has no choice but to knock his friend out to preserve their secrecy.


When Hornblower is sent to the Spanish prison in the episodic film The Dutchess and the Devil, he finds that Kennedy has been found in that same boat after the incident with the Papillon and had spent months in that very prison. He had lost the will to try to escape, and eventually the will to live. We learn that he had even passed these months without a single fit, but when Hornblower is forced back into his life, reminding him of all that he had lost, the fits resume.

The Great Escape ... and Return

While Hornblower's men insist on carrying out their own escape plan, Horatio refuses to leave his friend in that prison. He will not make any attempt at escape unless Kennedy can go with them, and Kennedy is in no state to escape. Horatio nurses his friend back to health until, one day, a terrible storm causes a Spanish ship to wreck on the reef near the prison.

Hornblower pleads with the general in charge of the prison to let him and his men go out and save whomever they can, and he gives his word of honor that they would return. The general eventually agrees and they head out on a boat. They are unable to return to the shore until morning, when they are picked up by theIndefatigable herself. Once safe, Hornblower tells his captain of the promise that he had made and requests to be allowed to return to prison.


Captain Pellew (Robert Lindsay) understands Hornblower's need to keep his promise but sees no reason why Horatio's promise should hold to any of the others. However, when asked directly, the men who had been with Hornblower agree to return with him to prison. In fact, Kennedy, after all he has been through—having a fit on the boat and being knocked out by Horatio himself because of it, having been captured and held for months in a Spanish prison and receiving nothing but pain and a resurgence of his old seizures at the sight of his old friend—is the first one among the group that speaks up saying “If Mister Hornblower has given his word, that holds good for me, sir.” This is an incredible insight into Hornblower and his reputation among the men by the simple fact that we understand this poor man better.

While the book focuses on Hornblower himself to the near total exclusion of others—a method that can work very effectively in writing—films cannot do that. That is not to say that they must necessarily shift their focus to the ensemble. In fact, there are hardly any scenes in the entire film series in which Hornblower does not make some appearance. However, it becomes a greater necessity in film to define the main character by defining those around him. In that way, one can get a better look at the thoughts and inner workings of the hero by seeing the effects of the outward expressions of those thoughts on the relationships that are constantly around him. Thus, by knowing Kennedy better, we cannot help but understand Horatio Hornblower better and better with each new scene.


Works Cited

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, C.S. Forrester, Back Bay Books, 1996

Horatio Hornblower film series – A&E
- The Duel / The Even Chance – 1999
- The Duchess and the Devil – 1999
- Retribution – 2001

Hamlet and King Henry V, William Shakespeare, The Riverside Shakespeare: Second Edition, the complete works, ed. Herschel Baker, Anne Barton, Frank Kremode, Harry Levin, Hallett Smith, Marie Edel / Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston / New York

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