WHO KILLED KENNEDY?
Why, oh why, was Our Crumpet toasted in "Retribution"?
Good night, Sweet Prince.
Well, it wasn't exactly a surprise. There were grounds for suspicion even before A&E's affiliate Meridian Television boneheadedly posted a minutely detailed plot synopsis on their website months before Retribution even aired. Yes, many of us already knew that Archie was going to get "whacked."
The overriding motive was clear: Horatio's "canon" best friend, whom we first meet in the novel Lieutenant Hornblower, is William Bush. How, then, would Archie fit in with a film adaptation of this book -- and any future films of the other books in the series? Would it become a symbiotic 3-way relationship like in Star Trek, with Horatio/Kirk the complete hero, Bush/Spock the mind, and Archie/McCoy the soul? In our dreams.
No, Archie was already doomed. And if you're as cheesed off about it as I am, then I am pleased to say that we're in truly august company: in an interview with the Flick Filosopher, Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio) is quoted as saying that Archie's death was "one thing I was bitterly disappointed by," and that he "couldn't believe that was allowed to happen." Thanks, Ioan! Love ya, man. But, um, who exactly allowed it to happen???
Who actually signed the execution order?
I think we can exonerate the scriptwriters; they were only the hired guns (so to speak). But there is no lack of other suspects. Here follows a list of the most frequently accused parties, their presumed personal motives, the evidence, deliberations, and possible verdicts.
For a nicer take on Archie's death, visit the Requiem page for tributes by his loyal fans.
THE "TEXT PURISTS"
WHO: Those devotees of C. S. Forester's Hornblower novels whose avowed wish is for the films to stick to the books -- chapter, verse, and letter. (I do not wish to imply that everyone who likes the novels falls into this group; plenty are fans of both.)
MOTIVE: Bush is Horatio's best friend; Archie only had a very small part in Midshipman Hornblower and shouldn't even be in the film version of Lieutenant Hornblower in the first place.
EVIDENCE: Any number of "Archie must die" posts on the A&E Message Boards.
DELIBERATIONS: Well, since he is in the film version of Lieutenant Hornblower, whether he "should" be or not is largely academic. He, Horatio, and Bush worked quite well together in HH2. That Archie was in fact brought back would seem to indicate that the text purists don't command enough influence with the production to decide his fate one way or another.
VERDICT: Not guilty, although hardly for lack of effort.
WHO: Producers and broadcasters of the Hornblower series.
MOTIVE: Archie's death was necessary for Horatio to become "The Man Alone" of the novels (and presumably more films). Classic TV shorthand for character development.
EVIDENCE: Just the fact that they went ahead and did it!
DELIBERATIONS: They took the trouble to expand Archie's character from a small role to a pivotal player; they allowed him to embark on a personal journey of discovery and to learn and grow with Horatio. A&E's website has given Archie and his portrayer Jamie Bamber quite nice coverage. It is therefore difficult to believe that they would kill off Archie on their own initiative.
VERDICT: An accessory, at most.
WHO: Archie's portrayer.
MOTIVE: A career move -- better to exit in grand style than to risk typecasting as the perpetual third banana behind Hornblower and Bush in any future films.
EVIDENCE: In a fan questionnaire dated January 2001, Jamie said he was interested in doing contemporary rather than period pieces right now. And that's about it for first-hand statements. However, in an 11/3/2001 A&E board post (which A&E wiped out in a massive purge when they changed their boards in January 2003), "Forever45" recounted her meeting with Sean Gilder (Styles) after seeing him perform in A Midsummer Night's Dream. According to Forever 45, according to Sean, Jamie was unaware his character was going to be whacked and wouldn't have signed on for more films if he'd known. And then, in a 12/12/2002 post (wiped out in yet another board purge), "Pronetopanic" and some friends recounted a conversation they'd had with Jamie himself (with his permission) between performances of Henry IV, Part 1, in which he played Prince Hal. During their chat, Jamie freely revealed that he had not known Archie was heading for the chop when he signed on to HH2. He also told the circumstances of how he learned of his character's intended fate. (Completely graciously and without any bitterness, I should add. The man has class.) Aha!
DELIBERATIONS: Well -- at least it would be understandable, if true.
VERDICT: NOT guilty!!!
THE FORESTER ESTATE
WHO: The heir(s) of C. S. Forester, author of the Hornblower novels.
MOTIVE: Same as the text purists, with (obviously) more proprietary interest in the novels and their treatment.
EVIDENCE: A number of interviews with people involved in the film production mentioned the dominant role played by the estate. Jamie Bamber himself addressed this in his 1999 A&E interview, going so far as to doubt Archie would be in any Hornblower films beyond HH1 because of it.
DELIBERATIONS: It seems very telling that Archie is killed. If Horatio must be The Man Alone (and why, then, is Bush OK?), Archie could have simply transferred to another ship, could he not? No, he couldn't -- not if the intent is to guarantee that he'll never, ever, be able to return and wreak further havoc on the Hornblower canon.
We have seen in HH2 that A&E/Meridian are not averse to bringing characters back in defiance of canon (Pellew, Matthews, Styles, and Archie himself), so it doesn't seem like they would be the ones to slam that particular door shut so emphatically. It appears that the Forester estate would. And unlike the text purists, the estate has more than enough influence: if A&E wants the rights to film more Hornblower novels, you know whose boots they'll have to lick.
VERDICT: If not guilty, methinks it can only be by reason of insanity.
Although my own suspicions fall most heavily on the Forester estate, there is always the possibility that any one or more -- or all -- had a hand in Archie's demise. We can only be thankful that he didn't get the Lord Tony treatment (the notorious "he knew the risks" kiss-off in A&E's 1998 Scarlet Pimpernel), but was allowed to go in style.
And I thank God for fan fiction. Even Simpson doesn't stay dead in Hornblower fan fic!