This sailor's all at sea on land

THE year is 1803. The uneasy peace between the British and the French has lasted a year. But beware, Napoleon Bonaparte is stirring (not a word to Josephine) and C S Forester's naval hero Horatio Hornblower has fallen on hard times.

His promotion to captain has been disallowed while his ship's in harbour. That means he's short of cash. His coat's already been pawned, so now he hands over his sword in return for a loan.

But he has an admirer - his drunken landlady's daughter Maria goes weak at the knees every time she sees him. "My heart leaps when I hear your footstep on the stair," she says, like a heroine in a Mills and Boon romantic novel.

Rather than take advantage of the poor girl, Ioan Gruffudd's bashful seaman mutters something about "I am but a penniless sailor with few connections and fewer prospects" and goes off to discover the fleshpots of Portsmouth.

They talk a lot like that in Hornblower, sounding a bit like the first draft of a bad classical play. "You are very free with your hospitality for someone whose rent is so far in arrears," his landlady (Barbara Flynn) tells him through her gin-sodden haze.

Thank goodness, he's soon given command of a sloop and sent off on an important mission off the French coast. Hornblower works best when the action is at sea. On dry land, the script is all at sea, if you see what I mean.

Maria is on the dockside to wave off Horatio and present him with a pair of gloves that she's knitted. They are no more embarrassing than the French accent adopted by Greg Wise as Frenchman Major Cotard, who's being shipped off for a rendezvous at sea.

As usual, there are battles at sea, a flogging, skulduggery, treachery and many matey matelots hoisting their colours while shouting things like "land ho!". I'm not so sure about the admiral who spoke of making a "pre-emptive strike". Did they have them in those days?

TV's pilfering of literature continues with My Uncle Silas, taken from the H E Bates short stories about a randy old reprobate in an English countryside where the sun shines continuously and the grass is always greener. Albert Finney, all ruddy complexion and rural jovialness, has a high old time impersonating this country bumpkin.

This week's female companion - he seems to attract the attention of a different woman each week - is watercolour artist Hermione. She paints nude portraits. Not of other people but of herself, which provides an excuse for a shot of her naked rear as we see her at work.

Emma Fielding seems miscast as Hermione, saying she hates her body which had "lumps in all the wrong places". They look perfectly placed from what I can see, considering the limitations imposed by the pre-watershed scheduling.

She's planning to marry a chap in order to pay off her father's debts, although she really loves a penniless artist.

"In this life, I believe you should protect your own happiness first," says wise old Silas, uttering the thought of the week before taking her off to fish for eels.

Her fiancee turns up unexpectedly to discover her naked with Silas. "You filthy scoundrel," he says before Silas gives him a well-deserved bloody nose and returns to another bottle of elderberry wine.