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The Frogs and the Lobsters (a.k.a. The Wrong War) is an episode of the television program Hornblower. It is set during the French revolutionary wars and very loosely based on the chapter of the same name in C.S. Forester's novel, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and on the actual ill-fated Quiberon expedition of 1795. The main title is based on the often derogatory description of the French by the British (as well as other English speakers) and on the red coats of the British soldiers. The secondary title deals with Horatio's own duty to the Crown and the alliance with the French and his struggle with his own sympathy towards the French revolutionaries.

Plot summary[]

François de Charette, a royalist general in exile, decides to rally the surviving royalists and raise an army in France to restore the king to power. He calls upon the British Navy to ferry him across the English Channel with French troops (the frogs) and a company of British redcoats (the lobsters) to Quiberon, but one important thing has gone wrong. A lieutenant carrying a copy of the orders has been murdered and the orders stolen. Captain Pellew, who is in charge of the transports, believes this the work of French spies and begs his superiors to call off the invasion, but they ignore him and the army sets off for disaster. Horatio Hornblower, the central character, is assigned to a division of the invading army that is to hold the bridge at Muzillac, but General de Charette is a butchering madman whose obsession with revenge over his former subjects does nothing to help the doomed invasion. Instead of working with Hornblower to fight the revolutionary troops, he spends all of his time rooting out those villagers he sees as being disloyal and executing them on his own personal guillotine.

The main departure from the original story is the introduction of French peasant girl Mariette (Estelle Skornik), now a schoolteacher with fluent English.

Hearing that de Charette has condemned Mariette as a disloyal revolutionary and sentenced her to death, Hornblower rushes back to the village to save her. He arrives just as Mariette is being strapped to the guillotine ready to be beheaded. He attempts to reach her to free her from the guillotine, but is restrained by de Charette's men. His pleas for mercy go unheeded and de Charette orders that Mariette's execution should continue. The executioner lowers Mariette into position beneath the guillotine blade, closes the stocks around her neck and pulls the release handle. Hornblower is forced to watch in horror as the guillotine blade falls and Mariette's severed head tumbles into the basket.


The guillotine used for the execution scenes was supplied and supervised by a local magician, and was a version of the trick known as the "French Guillotine". In this version of the trick, which uses a very accurate copy of a genuine guillotine and is often used as a movie special effect, the guillotine blade passes in front of the neck stocks, rather than through them. As a result, the person locked into the guillotine actually is decapitated so, when the execution scene was filmed. Estelle Skornik genuinely was being beheaded.

At the post-filming "wrap party", the magician entertained the cast and crew with a number of tricks, including sawing Estelle Skornik in half in his version of Clearly Impossible.