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THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (aka: Lady Hamilton)(director: Alexander Korda; screenwriters: Walter Reisch/R.C. Sherriff; cinematographer: Rudolph Mate; editor: William W. Hornbeck; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Vivien Leigh (Emma Lady Hamilton), Laurence Olivier (Lord Horatio Nelson), Alan Mowbray (Sir William Hamilton), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Cadogan-Lyon, Emma’s mother), Gladys Cooper (Lady Frances Nelson), Henry Wilcoxon (Captain Hardy), Heather Angel (A Streetgirl), Miles Mander (Lord Keith), Luis Alberni (King of Naples), Ronald Sinclair (Josiah, Nelson’s step-son); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alexander Korda; United Artists; 1941)
“Winston Churchill’s favorite film; he reportedly saw it 83 times.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Winston Churchill’s favorite film; he reportedly saw it 83 times. It’s a patriotic film released during WWII, whose theme is that you can’t make peace with a madman who is trying to rule the world—you must destroy him (the reference to Hitler was obvious and wasn’t lost to the public who made the film a box office hit). The historical romantic drama is energetically directed by Alexander Korda (“Rembrandt”/”The Private Life of Henry VIII”/”Fire Over England”), a close friend of Churchill’s, and written by Walter Reisch and R.C. Sherriff. It features spouses Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, who prior to their marriage both had a well-publicized affair while married to others. In this Hollywood made but very British film they depict an affair between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, an illicit relationship between the marrieds that caused a national scandal.

The film opens in Calais, where a destitute English woman is caught stealing a bottle of wine and put in jail. There she tells another English prisoner that she’s Lady Hamilton and then tells her life story.

Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), an elderly rich widower who is the British ambassador to the Court of Naples, receives in 1786 the beautiful 18-year-old Emma Hart (Vivien Leigh) who arrives in Naples with her chaperone, the crude and earthy mother of her low birth, Mrs. Cadogan-Lyon (Sara Allgood). Sir William’s nephew Charles Greville passed Emma onto him without her knowledge and never intended to marry her as she thought. Impressed with her beauty, the old codger tutors her to be a lady and marries her. A few years pass and the dashing Captain Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier) visits Sir William in Naples to say England is at war with France and needs troops from Naples. When her hubby is too slow to respond, Emma helps Nelson see the Queen of Naples immediately and she talks the king into giving Nelson 10,000 troops. Five years later Nelson returns and when the neutral Naples is too frightened of Napoleon Bonaparte to help Nelson, Emma helps him get his supplies. She’s also shocked to see Nelson has been blinded in one eye and has lost an arm. Nelson now goes to fight Napoleon’s fleet in Egypt’s Nile and wins a smashing victory. Upon returning to Naples, the now promoted to admiral, Nelson, starts his affair with Emma and after rescuing the Hamiltons and the royals from the revolutionary mob. Nelson then follows his original orders to go to Malta. His disobeying orders to save Lady Hamilton, receives the ire of the British Admiralty. They order him to return to England alone. Back in London the dour Lady Frances Nelson (Gladys Cooper) meets her hero husband, and when she soon finds out that hubby knocked up Lady Hamilton glumly announces she’ll never give him a divorce. Emma in 1801 has the child, a girl, and refuses to reconcile with Sir William, choosing to live happily instead with Lord Nelson in a country cottage. In 1805 Nelson is called upon to defend England’s fleet from being attacked by Napoleon and his ally of Spain, at the cape of Trafalgar. Nelson gives England its greatest naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, but dies in the battle. Though he provided amply for Emma, the British courts refused to allow her to collect and she would become a debtor and her life would end tragically as a pauper.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”