Personal Website: http://www.io.com/~cortese/stories/
The best slash fandoms contain at least a bit of the following:
1) Good-looking actors
2) Excellent characterization
3) A devotional buddy pair
4) High drama
5) Gorgeous production values
6) Brilliant writing
7) Top-quality acting
8) A lovely score
And then, there's "Hornblower," which boasts all eight in almost excessive quantities. Not only is it a slashable fandom, but it's been rightly labeled Slash Crack. It's got beauty, war, danger, drama, fits, hysteria, (almost) canon sexual abuse, swashbuckling adventure, explosions, loyalty, delicious dialogue, devotion, tender midnight confessions, hurt and comfort by the bucketloads, and some of the finest actors ever to waltz across a British stage.
And it's got the most beautiful slash pair I've ever encountered in over ten years of slash fandom -- Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy.
There are currently eight movies in the A&E movie series, based loosely on the books by C. S. Forester. Horatio/Archie slashers are generally devoted to the first six, for reasons that will be clear in my summary. These six movies are:
"The Duel" (UK Title: The Even Chance)
"The Fire Ships" (UK Title: The Examination for Lieutenant)
"The Duchess and the Devil"
"The Wrong War" (UK Title: Frogs and Lobsters)
Hornblower: The Adventure Continues
Whither Archie? Fan Resources and Purchase Info
Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy -- who are they?
Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd):
Horatio Hornblower is, of course, the eponymous hero of the series of movies. Tall, dark, introverted, and intellectual, he is a unique action hero in that he is more comfortable in the world of the mind than in making snotty quips before shooting the bad guys. He is ill at ease in most social situations and can come across as cold or proud. Despite this, he is extremely honest and dependable, as well as a brilliant strategist and tactician, and thus wins the loyalty of his crewmates as someone who can be counted on in a crisis.
He entered the Navy as a raw midshipman, seasick when the ship was at anchor. The first person he met on board the ship -- an execrable tub called the Justinian -- was to become the most important person in his life for the next eight years, Midshipman (and later Lieutenant) Archie Kennedy. In the series of books, Hornblower never really opens up to anyone for his entire life. In the movies, Archie is the one person he considers a friend, neither subordinate nor superior. Where he is reticent to so much as touch others, with Archie he is more demonstrative, exchanging meaningful looks and fond touches, and shows much more gentleness toward him than with any of the other ratings or officers. For Horatio Hornblower, there is no other man in the world like Archie Kennedy, with whom he is vulnerable, tender, patient, relaxed, and very much in love.
Archie Kennedy (Jamie Bamber):
Enthusiastic, eager, and as fair and broad as Horatio was dark and lean, Archie Kennedy was an amalgam character created by combining several characters from the Hornblower books and given the name of one of the various Midshipman Nobodies that blow past Hornblower during his early adventures. The first person Hornblower meets upon setting foot on the deck of their first ship, Archie welcomes the distinctly queasy Horatio with a cheerful, "Welcome to Purgatory!" When first we meet him, he is a chatterbox, with hair that wavers between reddish and gold (and the color of his hair is a subject of some good-natured disagreement among his fans) and very intense blue eyes. He has what appears to be epilepsy, and just as sometimes occurs with the real-world disorder, it is at its worst when he is youngest and appears to tail off and vanish as he leaves adolescence behind.
During his tenure in the series of movies, Archie Kennedy experienced an enormous number of precipitous ups and downs. In later episodes, we see him recovering from his traumatic experiences and growing into a smart-mouthed, pragmatic, adventurous and swashbuckling action hero and beloved best friend who is prepared to sacrifice quite literally everything for Horatio's sake. He enters the series as a bouncy though much-abused "poor lamb," and ends up as a confident, heroic figure who makes the entire rest of Horatio's life possible. And throughout it all Horatio always, always, always has faith in him.
Archie's dramatic function appears to be that of the standard sidekick to an introverted hero. Horatio Hornblower was very much a lone character, apart from those around him. It's not easy to film a character like that, as no camera is small enough to get inside of his head. A friend is needed, a sidekick of sorts, so that the hero can say what he's thinking. And when your hero is the sort of fellow who might be prodded into smiling once every blue moon, you also need someone nearby who can smile when things are going well, and voice the main character's (and audience's) doubts when the leading man isn't the expressive type.
Romance on the High Seas: A Love Story
You'd be hard pressed to find two characters in the "Hornblower" movieverse more different than Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy. Archie is talkative where Horatio is taciturn and socially uneasy. Horatio is a lover of mathematics while Archie Kennedy "knew Drury Lane like it was my home." Horatio is a commoner while Archie is a child of the nobility. Horatio is tall, thin, and dark. Archie is shorter, broadly built, and fair. Horatio comes to within a quarter of a degree of occasionally cracking a smile, and Archie is much more expressive. In the fanfiction, Horatio is also generally more repressed physically, and must be teased out of his guilt and reticence by the more sensuous and sometimes even sybaritic Archie. Horatio is naive at times, compared to Archie's "school of hard knocks" outlook. Horatio is tough and militarily brilliant but oddly fragile. Through necessity, Archie is very resilient but less gifted and naturally brave than his friend. Horatio is much more respectful and invested in the chain of command, whereas Archie's smart mouth walks just to one side of insubordination in the last two movies.
Not only is Archie Kennedy a perfect foil for Horatio Hornblower, but they are a wonderfully complete personality pair, each one making up for the other's faults and deficiencies and reinforcing their strengths. Alone, they are competent officers. Together, they are fully realized human beings and -- as anyone can see! -- deeply, deeply in love.
However, one of the problems of a heroic character, remarked upon by Ioan Gruffudd himself, is that they tend to be somewhat neutral. Heroes of all kinds tend to have the "reset button" pressed on them more often than not.
As a result, very often the "sidekick" character gets a lot of the character evolution that the hero isn't permitted to have. The interesting, life-altering stuff will happen to him, and this is precisely what happens with Archie Kennedy. There is, as already stated, the epilepsy as well as near-canon sexual abuse; it's all but stated out loud although the actors state that they didn't specifically try to play it that way. However, with the Royal Navy being what it was ...
(The chief evidence is in a scene in the "The Duel"/"The Even Chance" where a leering Midshipman Jack Simpson, that movie's Bad Guy, advances on Kennedy saying, "Jack's missed you, boy ... " while Kennedy pretty much freezes and goes white. The squicky menace is absolutely palpable.)
Following that, Archie is then taken prisoner by the French, traded to the Spanish after being hard to manage (five escape attempts, none of which succeeded), and allowed to languish in a series of horrific, squalid prisons until he is found by Horatio in the third movie, the fan favorite "The Duchess and the Devil." After two and a half years of hideous torture and deprivation, Kennedy has lost hope and believes escape to be impossible. Horatio for his part attempts to balance his men's eagerness to escape as soon as possible with the necessity to wait for Archie to recuperate and accompany them. Several of his men are not willing to wait and Archie, taking matters into his own hands, begins to starve himself (with some help from another of Horatio's men who is unwilling to wait). Distracted for a variety of reasons, Horatio does not notice until it is almost too late, and nearly goes wild with grief and guilt when Archie finally collapses. Some sort of scientifically defined maximum slash density is reached when Horatio carries Archie's unresisting body out into the rain to beg a sickroom from the prison's keeper, Don Masaredo:
Subsequently, in what is the most touching scene ever set to celluloid (and that turns both me and legions of H/A slashers into pathetic, goopy puddles of warm honey), the previously brittle and authoritarian Horatio now sits devoted by Archie's bedside as Archie tosses in a nightmare revolving around the nefarious Simpson and shoots to wakefulness, and then prods him into taking a drink of water. Archie is bereft, and Horatio is terrified at the prospect of not being able to save his life. It's incredibly tender and beautiful and turns me into mush every time when Horatio finally tips the cup of water up to Archie's lips and gets him to take a sip that turns into a parched gulp. I mean, there's hurt/comfort like that in canon! Embarrassment of riches!
Later they are made to return to prison (Archie volunteers to go back with Horatio!) where, now healthy, they are put back into their old cell alone together. "Almost feels like home," Archie says ruefully as Horatio puts a companionable hand on his back and they walk to their respective bunks. There's tons of fic around that describes in no small detail the means by which they finally succumb to one another's charms while imprisoned in Spain.
That's not the end of Archie's journey, though. Unlike most movies or television series, which beat the snot out of a guy and then have him acting as if nothing had happened the next day, we see the evolution of Archie's recovery spelled out, plausibly and logically.
In the next movie, "The Wrong War"/"Frogs and Lobsters," they are forced to enter France to aid some royalists who aim to start an insurgence against the French revolutionaries. Can you say "Bay of Pigs?" It turns out about that well, and Archie in particular is not pleased to be back in France, risking capture. He panics at one point while guarding a bridge and in about seventeen seconds proceeds to unload a year's worth of gunpowder through every cannon he's got in an attempt to pulverize everything in sight. Horatio manages to calm the now bloodthirsty and panicking Mr. Kennedy down with a patience and tenderness that he never showed any other nervous crewman -- and the next time they are prodded into reacting, it's another man who panics, and Archie who helps him keep his head.
Finally, there is a dramatic conclusion where Archie's limping valor awakens for good involving him outracing a burning fuse connected to about 1.9 metric shitloads of gunpowder to save Horatio's life. Horatio saves Archie's life in prison, and Archie goes and does the same thing for his best friend and true love! *claps hands* How can anyone resist that? The end of the episode has them standing together on the main topgallant yard of their ship, the Indefatigable, smiling into the sun and wind and sailing off into a sparkling sea.
The next time we see them in the two movies "Mutiny" and "Retribution" the character evolution is going both ways, as Horatio is forced to learn that rules and the chain of command, while good enough in theory, don't always work perfectly in the real world. They are on board a new ship captained by a once-noble man who has descended into mental illness, imagining conspiracies and dangers where none exist. He accuses his officers (including Fourth Lieutenant Kennedy and Third Lieutenant Hornblower) of mutiny and puts the ship in grave danger by sailing it blithely into battle without preparations, practically pickling the crew in rum, and running them aground.
Horatio is unwilling to condemn the captain, saying that he has earned his place in history, but the much more pragmatic Archie Kennedy is more taken up with the here-and-now: "It's not history that concerns me, Horatio. It's the future."
The officers, also including a new character taken from the books, Lieutenant Bush, are forced to mutiny in order to save the ship and her crew, and the captain is seriously injured in a freak accident. After many dangerous adventures and hairbreadth escapes during which both Horatio and Archie swash enough buckles to delight the most hardcore action fans, Horatio stands accused of trying to kill the mad Captain Sawyer, along with committing mutiny with the rest of the lieutenants.
However, mortally wounded in the action, Archie Kennedy drags his bleeding self into the courtroom to take the blame for the mutiny, averting Hornblower's court-martial and hanging, and taking the dishonor onto himself before dying of his wounds. Horatio susses out what Archie has decided to do, but arrives at the courtroom too late to stop him. The shocked Horatio and the mortally wounded Archie exchange a deep stare across the crowded courtroom through which their souls are exchanged, and I just bawl like a ninny along with many, many others:
Their deathbed confessions of devotion and loyalty slay me so thoroughly that I can't even watch them with the sound turned off without collapsing into a wreck. Thousands of hearts are irreparably shattered (including Horatio's) and fic writers begin to crank out fixits and AUs by the tankerload. One of the best writers in the fandom, mzcalypso, posted her fixit fic immediately after "Retribution" aired on the East Coast, thus resurrecting Mr. Kennedy before he had actually died in the West Coast timeslot.
Fan reaction was strong and swift. Almost immediately, posts to the A&E "Hornblower" message boards eulogizing Archie Kennedy or expressing grief and outrage at his demise grew so numerous that the boards locked up and froze.
The story behind the demise of Archie Kennedy is relatively simple. The Forester estate is a very strong presence in the production, and the character was not in the books. He was added for a variety of reasons -- dramatic necessity, and because the writers and other producers just liked the interaction between the two characters. Archie was originally supposed to have appeared only in "The Duel," but the writers decided they liked Horatio and Archie together and opted to bring him back. What was supposed to be a series about A Man Alone suddenly morphed into a buddy series (a great improvement in my opinion, and many others' opinions as well).
However, Hornblower was meant to be a dysfunctional loner in the books, with his closest confidant being Lieutenant Bush -- and not a very close one at that. Thus, the estate issued their demand: Archie could not appear in "Mutiny" or "Retribution."
The writers balked. A bargain was struck; Archie could appear but had to die, and on-screen. This was done, in such a way as to make plausible Horatio's sudden shift into an antisocial curmudgeon, and in such a way as to make Archie Kennedy immortal. Far from removing Archie from the universe as the estate wished, their entrenched insistence that he die on-screen has enshrined him permanently as the most important person in Horatio's life.
Bamber has been pleased about the role and philosophical about his departure. He had originally been sent by his people to read for the part of the (according to the book) tall, dark, gangly, long-nosed Hornblower, for which he is plainly not physically well-suited. He was brought back to play Archie. He was brought back again to play Archie after the writers opted to dispose of him in a conveniently inconclusive manner in "The Duel." And for yet a third time, he was brought back in "Mutiny" and "Retribution." From a one-time deal, it turned into a career-boosting five out of the first six movies, playing a well-defined central character who evolved plausibly and profoundly -- certainly nothing to complain about from his point of view!
Ioan Gruffudd has continued to play Horatio Hornblower in the now Archieless series of movies, which are infinitely less engaging as a result. (It's like making a sequel to "Butch and Sundance" called "Butch.") Gruffudd has gone on record as being openly displeased with the demise of Archie Kennedy, stating in an interview at The Flick Filosopher that he was "bitterly disappointed," and "I couldn't believe that was allowed to happen." He later stated in an interview at A&E's official "Hornblower" site, "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."
Well spoken, indeed. In the subsequent movies, Horatio has becomes a man in permanent mourning, a bitter and surly curmudgeon who has learned that the Navy is not the bastion of honor that he thought it was, but is a carnivorous and cruel master that will swallow the honor of his greatest love to satisfy nothing more than the need for a scapegoat. He is grieving, alone, and unhappy, cruel to those who know him and married to a silly but nonetheless sweet and devoted woman whom he treats abysmally and does not love.
Well, that's what the filmmakers say. We know better -- we Horatio/Archie fans are perfectly well aware that Mr. Kennedy is alive and well in AU-land, snuggling with Horatio regularly. And we know that Horatio has been saved by Archie's love from a lifetime of asocial misery and self-hatred.
Three things are certain in this life: death, taxes, and that Horatio and Archie lived happily ever after. :-)
Fan Resources and Purchase Info
Caps, manips, art:
http://willowflower.net/misskittie/hhcaps.html -- caps made by paraxdisepink. Lovely captions, and hilarious gaps where the two men aren't together.
http://www.squidge.org/~praxisters/horatioarchie.html and http://www.squidge.org/~praxisters/gundeck.html -- Theban Band's "Hornblower" manips. Utterly beautiful.
http://cw96.tripod.com/vs/hh.html -- the most beautiful "Hornblower" fanart, and some of the best fanart I've ever seen, period. By cimmerianwillow.
Hornblower Frolix H/A Stories
And be sure to check out the Crack Van memories. My own favorite authors include notmonkey, mzcalypso, paraxdisepink, and widget285. All of their websites are linked through their userinfo with the exception of mzcalypso, whose fic can be found here.
If you must read only one piece of Horatio/Archie fanfiction, let it be Ransom, which is probably one of the best novellas I've ever read, fic or pro. Filled with lots of plotty goodness, excellent character work, and scorchingly beautiful sex.
DVD box sets and individual movies are available in Region and through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Click on the numbers for purchase info.
Added later: It is worth noting that the six-disk Region 1 set is not copy-protected.
And in conclusion ...
If you could go for two of the most beautiful and mutually devoted creatures ever to grace the screen in delicious 18th century costume, brilliant production values, articulate and incisive dialogue, intricate plots, and high drama, you'll love "Hornblower," and you'll love Horatio and Archie. I've been slashing for over ten years, and I've never seen anything like it. They are in a class by themselves.