The Battle of Trafalgar

Screenplay by Robin Hawdon

the battle of trafalgar image

The Battle of Trafalgar film script is an epic story of arguably the greatest sea battle ever fought, which brought about the eventual defeat of Napoleon, but at the cost of the death of England’s most beloved war hero. The Battle Of Trafalgar screenplay was originally commissioned by the James Bond producers, Salzman and Broccoli, then toyed with by the BBC for its celebration of the bicentenary of the battle.  It was created after much research, and with the advice of naval historians and senior Admiralty officers, but ultimately abandoned because of the cost of staging the battle itself.  Now however completely rewritten, and far more feasible with the advent of the digital effects revolution. Someone should make this movie!

The Battle of Trafalgar (1805)

Trafalgar was, perhaps more than any other, the victory of one man, Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson. His fleet was outnumbered, out-sailed and out-gunned by the combined French and Spanish fleets, and yet the battle’s outcome was scarcely in doubt by either himself or his opponents. This was thanks to the towering reputation he had created for himself during previous sea battles, and to the overwhelming superiority of seamanship amongst his crews.

Nelson’s own extraordinary story has to be seen in the context of a sometimes tumultuous personality, a brilliant but controversial career, and a decidedly colourful love life (which features strongly in the movie).

Trafalgar itself ended for ever Napoleon’s despotic ambitions to invade England, and so dominate the civilised world, and it paved the way for his eventual defeat at Waterloo. It also established a permanent British supremacy at sea, which was to last a hundred years, and led to the creation of the largest empire ever seen.

Bringing Trafalgar to the Screen

The task of bringing the spectacular story of Trafalgar to the screen (the sight of a two hundred feet high, three-decker man-of-war under full sail with all guns blazing must have been one of the most magnificent ever created by human design) is simplified by the circumstances. During the brief six weeks period leading up to the battle, all the personal, political and military issues which had been simmering in Europe for months, came to a head, and brought the focus of the world’s major players – Napoleon Bonaparte, William Pitt, President Thomas Jefferson, and all of Europe’s leaders – to bear on the fragile figure of a one-armed sailor with a controversial reputation, stationed in his beloved ship the Victory, on a storm-tossed stretch of water near the Straits of Gibraltar.


The sea location and battle scenes are so constructed that only two ships are required to be in camera at any one time – although those used will have to double as English, French, Spanish, two or three-decker, frigate or ship-of-the-line, through the use of different flags, paintwork, and external adornments. It is presumed that the panoramic fleet and battle scenes will be achieved with digital effects.

Nelson's character

The victory of Trafalgar was perhaps more than any other major encounter the victory of one man.  The battle itself was brought about through his determination; the tactics employed were his conception; the unhesitating execution of them was performed through his leadership; and the perseverance after the completest possible result, even after he himself was tragically removed from the scene, was due to his example.

But far more than this, the actual psychological state of the two opposing forces, was also largely the product of his presence.  The defeatist, almost fatalistic attitude with which the supposedly superior French and Spanish fleets finally faced battle was provoked mainly by the awe-inspiring reputation that Horatio Nelson had established through such devastating victories as those of Cape St Vincent, the Nile, and Copenhagen. The superb confidence and discipline of the British crews (made up largely of criminals, down-and-outs, and uneducated ruffians, many of whom had been at sea incessantly under appalling conditions for much of their adult lives) was due partly to the high standards of health and training which Nelson had established as the norm throughout the British navy. And due most of all, to the unique esteem in which he was held as leader in their hearts.

What was the secret of his extraordinary quality? What was it in Nelson’s personality, which so universally inspired the confidence of those who served under him, the lasting respect of everyone who met him, and the adulation, amounting almost to worship, of an entire populace?  Before a writer can attempt to create him on paper, and before an actor can attempt to portray him, an answer must be found to this question.

It seems that the particular quality of Nelson’s, which stands out, from all that has been related and written about him, is that of simplicity.  A basic lack of complication in his character, a straightforwardness, a singleness of purpose, which prevailed over all the complex demands of his existence.  There seems to have been no streak of guile in Nelson, no contradiction of instincts.  His ambitions were simple and straightforward, therefore he was able to pursue them with complete dedication; issues he approached with a clear-cut logic and directness, therefore he knew immediately how to deal with them; his affections were given to both men and women with a candour and a lack of reservation, which made him at the same time both immensely likeable, and a prey to his own unrestraint. Certainly he was subject to turbulent emotions and diverse motivations, which has led some biographers to emphasise complexities in his makeup.  However these rarely threw him from the main direction of his purpose.

It appears that the first impressions one received on meeting him were firstly, of the constant sense of urgency which emanated from him, and secondly of an ingenuousness, a totally disarming frankness, which showed through the authority he must have acquired during twenty-seven years commanding ships.  This would account for the often-described “boyishness” of the great man, and was the quality, which made him so immediately sympathetic.

However, a lasting affection is not inspired by mere lack of pretension, and there is no doubt that the more one got to know Nelson the more one was impressed by his consummate integrity, and by his instinctive consideration towards everyone from the lowest seaman upwards.  He was utterly unconcerned for his own welfare, beyond a certain delighted vanity in his fame. It was this selflessness which earned for him the affection of all who served with him, and it was this which preserved the deep friendship of so intelligent and cultured a man as Sir William Hamilton, long after Nelson’s lack of sophistication had led him into a highly indiscreet, but totally devoted affair with Lady Hamilton, the older man’s wife.

And finally there was his ability, which made Nelson such an insatiable conqueror of England’s enemies. He was driven by an unquenchable energy, which made him constantly restless while on shore, and ever impatient while afloat until enemy sails were in view.  He was inspired by an implacable belief in his duty to his country; and he was motivated by a single-minded obsession with the job in hand, which led him to ignore all considerations of caution or personal safety.

It is the diversity in most men’s characters that causes them to hesitate, to compromise, to mistrust their basic instincts.  Nelson was uniquely free from such diversity – therein, it seems, lay the secret of his greatness.