And what does Archie do in A&E's miniseries?
A shamelessly Archieological episode guide.
" 'Supporting' character? Hahahahahahaha ..."
(Click HERE if you want to skip the lengthy intro and go directly to the episodes.)
To adapt a literary work for the screen is always a challenge. For example, how would you film this line from the classic novel Robinson Crusoe?
"I found that all the ship's provisions were dry; and being well-disposed
to eat, I went to the bread room and filled my pockets with biscuits."
OK, you're probably thinking; what's so complicated about that? Well, nothing, intrinsically -- apart from the fact that it requires at least two sets and two scenes and numerous props which will likely cost a bundle of money, and apart from the fact that the mysteriously be-pocketed Mr. Crusoe had earlier told us he'd boarded the ship without clothes on.
My point (and I do have one) is that it is usually not possible -- or even desirable -- to stick to the absolute letter of a book when turning it into a film. Hard decisions must be made as to what to keep, what to jettison, and what to change, the overriding consideration of course being money. In the case of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, producer Andrew Benson and director Andrew Grieve were faced with a novel that required a staggering amount of expenditure in terms of real ships, model ships, period costumes, props, stunts, and a frigate-load of actors. Owing to C. S. Forester's habit of using interchangeable human plot facilitators (his only fully developed character, per se, is Hornblower), the cast for the miniseries looked to be enormous -- even discounting the hundreds of extras. And as anyone who has ever seen Monty Python knows, a speaking part means an actor has to be paid 28 guineas! (Probably even more now, adjusting for inflation.) Faced with the prospect of forking out thousands of guineas to actors whose only lines may simply be "Aye, sir," Messrs. Benson and Grieve decided to consolidate and combine these many plot facilitators into a few strongly defined characters. It is due to this decision that Archie as we know and love him came into being.
In Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, there is a guy who has a "fit" in a jolly boat during an attack -- and he is such an important character that I can't even remember what his name is. We have already met the otherwise negligible "Midshipman Kennedy," who so far as I recall does not have a first name. "Ah-ha!" think Messrs. Benson and Grieve. "Why not combine the two? And why not have him show Hornblower around the ship? Why not give Hornblower a friend? And of course we'll need to give some background for that 'fit' ... We can give him Bracegirdle's scenes, too -- we'll promote Bracegirdle to 1st lieutenant and make him a mentor for Hornblower, so he won't mind -- And, hey, why not call Midshipman Kennedy 'Archie'?"
For the role of Archie Kennedy, Messrs. Benson and Grieve cast one Jamie Bamber, who had been out of drama school for a grand total of two weeks. It proved a wise choice -- so much so that Archie, who was originally only supposed to appear in Episode 1, ended up with a substantial role in five of the six films.
This proved a bit problematic, however, with Episodes 5 & 6 being based on the book Lt. Hornblower. Horatio's "canon" best friend, whom we first meet in this book, is one William Bush. How, then, would Archie fit in? The problem seemed so insurmountable that back in his 1999 interview with A&E, Jamie Bamber gave the following answer when asked about continuing the role of Archie in further adventures:
"I would very much like to. It would depend on a lot of things, on what they have in mind. But I don't think it's really in the cards cause I've spoken recently with Andrew Grieve (the director of Hornblower) and he's working on new scripts. As far as I understand it, my character was only ever very small in the original novels and was greatly expanded and sort of rolled into other characters. It's grown, I think, beyond what it was originally supposed to be and I was very grateful for that. I don't think they'll pick up my character and take it further because it doesn't appear in the books and the C.S. Forester estate is quite a strong power within the production."
Well ... two years, 70000+ message board posts, and scores of fan fiction stories later, Archie did in fact make it into the new episodes. And while admittedly speaking as someone who has never read Lt. Hornblower, who has no plans to read Lt. Hornblower, and who would frankly rather do hand recounts of Florida presidential ballots than read Lt. Hornblower, I think he fits in just fine!
For an excellent account of the thought and care Jamie put into his performance, see his 1999 interview and 2001 interview with A&E. For a discussion of Archie's dramatic function in the series (I'll never get to the episodes if I start on that now!) see the Theory page on this site, under "A Character with Character."
And now, at last, an Archieological guide to the first six episodes of Horatio Hornblower, as aired in the spring of 1999 and 2001 on A&E:
I have been prevailed upon to provide at least some information about Hornblower 3, which aired in Britain in January and in the U.S. in December of 2003. The new series consisted of two episodes, Duty and Loyalty, and here's all you need to know about them:
1) Archie is not mentioned once, nor is there even a hint of a reference to an allusion that he even existed, let alone that he held some importance in Horatio's life. (Some viewers have offered some moments as possible candidates, but I'm too ornery to scramble after crumbs.)
2) Bracegirdle is brought back in defiance of canon, only to be stupidly killed off in a way that makes Archie's contrived death look like the work of a master dramatist.
3) Oh, and Horatio gets married. (**yawn**)
There ya go: Hornblower 3 in a nutshell. Hmph. (Bitter? Me? Why, whatever gave you that idea?) The only consolation is to be found in Ioan (Horatio) Gruffudd's latest interview on the A&E website, where he says:
"I don't think that, to be fair, anybody could replace Kennedy. It was a very special relationship that Horatio and Kennedy had. I don't think that anything could come close to this. I don't think anything will ever come close to the relationship with Kennedy."
You tell 'em, Ioan!
Click on the image of grown-up, manly Archie below
for some miscellaneous info on HH2 (Episodes 5 & 6)
(Many thanks to Alice for the top image from HH2!)