powered by AFI
In 1803, Napoleon has conquered Europe, and all that stands in the way of his conquest of England is the British Navy. Capt. William Blake, who commands a British ship, is known as a severe disciplinarian, and after his harsh punishment causes the death of a sailor aboard his ship, he is asked by Lord Horatio Nelson to resign. At home, Blake is a loving father and husband to his daughter Betsy and wife Elizabeth, but he misses the sea. Because Blake is a brilliant commander, Lord Nelson sends Lt. Eric Hawkins to ask him to captain a ship that will attempt to destroy French barges docked in a Dutch estuary. At first, Blake turns down the commission, but Elizabeth convinces him to accept. Blake is told that the dangerous enterprise must be completely voluntary, but, to Hawkins' dismay, Blake waits until the ship is at sea before asking the men if they will "volunteer" for service. When the ship's supplies run low, Blake puts the sailors on half-rations, and when they complain, he cuts the rations even more. During a storm, Blake orders the men to climb down from the riggings. Sampson Edwards, one of the sailors, disobeys and is knocked unconscious. When no one volunteers to rescue Edwards, Blake climbs the rigging himself and carries the unconscious sailor safely to the deck. He then punishes Edwards for disobeying orders. The underfed men soon develop scurvy, and against Blake's orders, Hawkins organizes a landing party to forage for fresh food. Ashore, Phillipe Domer, a French sailor on Blake's ship who professes to hate Napoleon, secretly reveals the ship's mission to the French authorities. Back on board the ship, Blake imprisons the men who went ashore until the ship is near its destination. Domer sends up a flare to warn the French ship, but the British ship is victorious. After sailor Dick Savage is punished for allowing Domer to steal the flares, Blake orders the crew to continue their search for more French ships. The men rebel and threaten mutiny. Hawkins unsuccessfully tries to persuade Blake to allow him to talk to the men, but the mutiny is thwarted when the ship is approached by more French ships. Blake's men are once again victorious, but when the ship returns to England, Blake has Edwards, the ringleader of the mutineers, and Hawkins arrested. Edwards is convicted, but Hawkins' lawyer protests that Hawkins has already chosen his own punishment--to marry Blake's daughter Betsy. With Blake's consent, Hawkins is censured and avoids a jail sentence.