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Flagship drama set to sail as Hollick saves Hornblower

Horatio Hornblower is set to sail the high seas again after the most ambitious drama project in the history of ITV has been saved by the intervention of Lord Hollick's United News & Media.

The pounds 10m adaptation of the Hornblower books by CS Forester has been running into problems because of delays in building a replica 18th century frigate that will be the star of the Napoleonic adventure stories.

Filming had been due to start in the Black Sea last month but problems with the replica Indefatigable which is being built in Turkey caused United News & Media to step in.

"The boat was taking forever to build and there were fears that the whole thing would end up massively over budget," a source on the production has been reported as saying.

So far the only major role to be cast is that of Hornblower himself. For the part played by Gregory Peck in the 1951 Hollywood version, ITV has picked unknown actor Ioan Gruffudd. Actresses Kate Beckinsale and Samantha Morton have been linked with the part of Hornblower's French mistress.

In addition to the major characters United is hiring 150 extras from the Ukraine for the drama's large battle scenes.

"We always knew this was going to be a mammoth task," said Vernon Lawrence, head of United Film and TV. "But remember this is the third attempt to make Hornblower - Thames tried to do it before and so did the BBC. It is just taking a little longer than expected."

Filming will now start on 14 September but only two of the planned films can be made this year before winter seas endanger the production and the crew. The 24-gun frigate has had to be made to modern safety standards while looking as authentic as possible.

Mr Lawrence said: "It was a hugely complicated job which meant it just fell behind schedule."

The vessel is the idea of Surrey boat-builder Michael Turk and is the first hand-built wooden frigate to be built for 150 years. He used the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south-east London to research its design.

The plan is that if the first four Hornblower films are a ratings success the boat can be used for a long-running series, thereby amortising the building costs over time. It will also be made available to tourist charters to help pay its way and is reportedly destined to be part of Greenwich's Millennium celebrations.