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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To be frank, I was surprised to learn that this was an American
production (althought it might explain the somewhat strident note of
the patriotic slant); I find it hard to picture the Hays Office ever
passing a script in which the heroine is revealed, in the opening
scene, to have already been the mistress of not just one man but many,
and who then, once finally legally espoused, launches into an
adulterous liaison with a married man resulting in an illegitimate
child. Surely (however historically well-founded) this was scarcely the
high moral tone that notoriously wanted to strip the merest occurrences
of "God" from the screenplay of Shakespeare's "Henry V" -- the play of
"God for Harry, England & St George"?
But then Emma Hamilton really did have the grace to die in alcoholic poverty, so perhaps history's moral was deemed adequate to the task. At any rate, for whatever reason, "Lady Hamilton" made it to the screen and remains in many ways a success. It is beautifully shot and lavishly produced, with a bravura performance from a truly lovely Vivien Leigh, and in its opening scenes boasts in addition a subtle and ironically intelligent script. Alan Mowbray shines as Sir William Hamilton, and Sara Allgood is gloriously vulgar as Emma's mother.
It is the character of Nelson that comes near to sinking the script, and it really isn't Laurence Olivier's fault. Arguably he doesn't convey Nelson's charisma -- there is little here of the 'Nelson Touch' that won him the devotion of captains and seamen alike, and it's hard to see what Emma sees in him other than the reflected glory of his achievements -- but in any case the part is a thankless and all but impossible one. It is not so much that Olivier is essentially playing trophy male in the leading lady's star vehicle, for this was his accustomed studio function at the period: he'd already adorned the screen opposite the dominance of Elisabeth Bergner, Flora Robson, Merle Oberon (twice), Joan Fontaine and Greer Garson. The trouble is the anachronistic political luggage hung on the part in an ill-fitting attempt to equate the Napoleonic Wars with the British Empire's battle against Hitler -- the speeches are at best clunky, at worst gratingly inappropriate when applied to the Corsican emperor's policies in place of those of the Nazis.
It's a pity, because the script and production are otherwise good and frequently excellent, and the special effects are also noteworthy. The layers of makeup that Olivier (enamoured as ever of prosthetics) uses to represent Nelson's increasing disfigurement are, while somewhat distracting, undeniably disturbing; Olivier's 'blind' eye is all too convincing in its unseeing lack of life. And his death scene in the bowels of the "Victory" is a remarkably accurate recreation in tableau of Arthur Devis' famous painting "The Death of Nelson" -- perhaps not Great Cinema, but instantly recognisable.
Meanwhile, the depiction of the Battle of Trafalgar itself, given the constraints of the era, is actually pretty well done. The use of models (and the occasional back-projection) is apparent, but the ships look as if they're actually moving under sail rather than just motoring along in the studio tank, the gun-flashes are in the right place (bow-chasers in reply to broadsides), and the drama of Nelson's head-on approach is genuinely tense. Ships loom abruptly out of rolling clouds of smoke as the French line is broken and all is thundering chaos; this is a far more lifelike representation of seaborne action than the vast majority of films of the time and a good many more recent productions manage, for all its unapologetic limitations.
But chiefly this is Vivien Leigh's picture as the title character. While her interactions with her husband as Nelson are somewhat turgid, when she is acting opposite Alan Mowbray or Sara Allgood she sparkles, and in the prologue she is convincingly raddled and worn. This is a one-woman show in which the rest of the cast are merely supporting players, and she rises entirely to the occasion, not only gloriously beautiful -- the Romney portrait in whose guise we first see her is simply dazzling, but the woman in the flesh is its match -- but compelling our attention as generous, frivolous, warm-hearted, adulatory Emma. She takes the character and makes her both human and sympathetic, and the film has laughter as well as genuine pathos.
Not perhaps in the first rank of 'weepies', but it's a fine piece of entertainment. It's just a shame the contemporary propaganda angle is so unsubtly done.
There is no any doubt why this film was made. This was the first film
of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier after they achieved international
stardom. She was already an Oscar-winner, he was an Oscar-nominee. They
were already married and so in love. They decided to take part in this
movie because they needed money for the stage flop, directed by
Olivier, "Romeo and Juliet" (the poor reviews showed only the
appreciation of Leigh's performance). And Korda was in need of a
propaganda movie. The whole romance was just a cover for the historic
foreground. Anyway, everybody was happy, because it was the first film
of Vivien after "Waterloo Bridge" and she was to appear in the next one
not earlier that in 1944, "Caesar and Cleopatra", released in 1946.
I think that the fact that the cinematography is black and white makes this film more beautiful. It's very warm and touching. I think that the whole story told there is not so faithful to the real story, but it doesn't matter. The film is full of beautiful art direction and costumes. Korda is good as the director, though it is not his best work. The point that made this movie unforgettable is Vivien Leigh. She not only looks like a goddess (as always), but she plays her part marvelously. It is another mature role of Vivien, so different from flirtatious and strong Scarlett O'Hara, or more unhappy Myra Lester. She shines and she again overshines and overshadows her husband, who was never as good as she was when playing her leading man, at least on the screen (I did not have possibility to see them acting on stage). His performance is so bland and poor that if there were Razzies then, he should have won at least one. There is no a great chemistry between them, and the fault is evidently on Olivier's part. With Vivien expressing so various emotions, he's just as static as a Greek sculpture made before Christ.
Anyway, if you a fan of Vivien Leigh, you should see it. She's just brilliant here, as she always was, even when she played less good written parts.
I am delighted in owning an excellent, prerecorded Beta video tape of
this engaging film. I tracked down a Betamax Video Recorder on eBay
last year and have had fun going through an extensive library in the
I watched the film last night, the second time in a month, and was enchanted and moved by what is referred to as a "propaganda" film. I read the postings here and was amazed to find what must be improbabilities, i. e., that Alexander Korda filmed the movie in America. I don't know how that would have been possible, because the featured stars had returned to England for the duration of World War II after their Hollywood stays for "Wurthering Heights" and "Gone with the Wind." I could be wrong, but Leigh and Olivier do not work in the U. S., again, until they appear in Shakespeare with The Old Vic Company in the 1950s. I hope to be corrected should I be wrong.
I agree with all those who wrote of Miss Leigh's ethereal beauty. She is perhaps her most beautiful here, even outshining her amazing beauty in "Gone with the Wind." Beauty, of course, is only skin deep, to use an old adage, and if that were the case with Miss Leigh she would have been forgotten a very long time ago. Beauty in this case in outward and inward. The spirit with which she imbues Emma Hamilton is worthy of the highest praise of both historians and thespians (and critics.) Because both Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were so glamorous in real life, one could be seduced into thinking that they weren't acting at all in this movie. I truly enjoyed watching these classically trained actors emote in the grand fashion, with the knowledge that "the method" style is looming on the horizon. I love Miss Leigh's "mannerisms;" the far-away look when you can see the brain in her head leading her to her next and always breathtaking action. There is something so mysterious about her. One can only wonder how "calculated" these "mannerisms" are. I find Olivier's performance very moving.
Why this exquisite film is not available in a resurrected VSH or DVD format is a mystery.
And now, my favorite scene/line in the film; in Palermo (I first thought that it was in Naples, but our lovers are in Sicily where Nelson has rescued and taken the Hamiltons and the Royal Naples family after an insurrection)on a terrace overlooking the English fleet. It is New Year's Eve 1799. The ship's bells begin to ring and Emma asks what they signify. Nelson reminds here that it is New Year's Eve 1799 and they recall the historical events of the closing century. Then Nelson embraces and kisses Emma and tells her that he's "kissed her through two centuries." Wonderful stuff.
Note: After more research "That Hamilton Woman" was filmed in Hollywood. And, of course, Vivien Leigh arrived in Hollywood to play Blanche Dubois in 1951. Sometimes gushing enthusiasm can display lack of knowledge. My apology to anyone here if I discounted any facts. January 23, 2007.
The film oozes with the passion which Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier obviously possessed for each other - as well as professional rivalry. I guess this passion mirrored the strong romance and feelings Nelson and Emma Hamilton had for each other. As the film is an all-out classic, it could stick to historical and romantic tradition in an unrepressed way. Indeed, it is glitteringly unrepressed from start to finish, much like the jewels Vivian Leigh wears around her neck. After giving my Chinese students a talk - more like a lecture - on London a few weeks ago, the subject fell on Trafalgar Square and it's historical reason for being there, even down to the pigeons that visit it, I came across another DVD copy of the film and bought it on impulse. DVD copies come so cheap here, it didn't really matter. I doubt whether an historical re-make of this romantic drama can ever live up to this version, even a try in the 70s with Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson in the subject roles. Not even the portrayal of Nelson's wife by Margaret Leighton could match the cold, hard, unfeeling attitude of Gladys Cooper. The way she taunts Nelson, ending, with, "I'll never put the name of Nelson through a divorce court," I found quite funny, showing that their lives weren't that much different from the rest of us. I remember in the 70s film, Jackson makes fun of Lady Nelson by calling her "tom-tit" because she was supposed to have limped like a bird's leg movement. I'm not quite sure how historically accurate that was. But the coldness, hardness, kept hitting Hamilton. You could see her vulnerability coming to a head in, "it's cold, it's freezing, I'm frightened!!" which eventually culminated in her exiled destitution. If anyone loves historical and romantic tradition, talent, and has time on their hands, can luxuriate in this film's luxury, then it is a definite, a must see, and ought to be cherished again and again, even beyond the beauty of Vivien Leigh and those gems she wears. And the music's stirring too. It compliments the opening title and credits which accompany a water color painting of Hamilton dressed in a flamboyant hat, wonderfully, while not being too 'namby-pamby.' I'd nudge it towards 10
Vivien Leigh's career is usually defined by her two most famous films,
"Gone With the Wind" and "A Streetcar Named Desire". Although certainly
good in the first she is magnificent in the second, with an
unparalleled maturity and sensibility that defies all explanation. For
me Blanche Dubois IS Vivien Leigh.
Having seen "That Hamilton Woman" for the first time recently, Leigh's portrayal kept me riveted and anxious for her next interpretation of that tragic woman's life despite the fact that I am familiar with her history. Perhaps it is because of that familiarity that I was anxious to see how she would act out the events. Nonetheless I was very impressed and can say that "Hamilton" is now my second favorite Leigh film after "Streetcar".
My only beef is with the naval scenes. They needlessly interfered with the film's flow and had little if anything to do with Lady Hamilton's life other than in the way they affected her love affair with Nelson. They could have easily been removed without penalty. Nelson's death at Trafalgar could have easily been covered in the scene where his lieutenant breaks the news to Emma. There was no need for the naval battle scene. After all this wasn't a movie about Nelson but about Emma Hamilton. All that chest beating and heroic music simply took away from what ends up being a tragic love story.
So watch it for Vivien Leigh and fast forward through the battle scenes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I suppose that revealing an historical fact might be considered a
spoiler by people basically ignorant of history. So I'm guilty. So
I don't say that old movies are always better than new ones but old movies are usually better than new. This is especially when they're the same movie, and generically so when the old movie has no clone. The old "Four Feathers" is better than the new. The old "Count of Monte Cristo" is better than any of the new. The old Disney movies are better than the new, especially when they're the originals of "What's-Its-Name" II (or III or XXXI). "That Hamilton Woman" is an old film that makes no secret of its aristocratic blood and as yet nobody has had the cajones to remake it.
THW is a Brit film made during the Last Good War (1941) when the Brits were still going it alone and not doing all that badly. It's a wartime reminder of how the British navy kept that nutter Napoleon at bay for almost a generation even as they kept that loony Hitler at bay during his (gottzei dank!) briefer career. Although the film isn't centered on the man who put paid to Bonaparte's naval pretensions, Horatio Nelson; however, he is an important character.
The main character is Emma Hart, ne Amy Lyon(s) and latterly Emma, Lady Hamilton. The film opens about the end of Emma's life, while she's in jail in Calais for brawling. She tells her story to a cell mate who is also English. This opens in 1783, just as she arrives at the home of Sir William Hamilton to whose tender care he has committed her now that he intends to marry a lot of money. Hamilton is ambassador to the King of Naples. Emma and her mother, Mary Cadogan-Lyon (formerly Mary Kidd), move into the Hamilton home, where she learns she's been palmed off. Eventually she gets over it and marries Lord Hamilton (1791). During the 1780s she befriends Queen Maria Carolina and moves virtually to the pinnacle of Neapolitan society after her marriage.
The film, I should add, runs fairly close to history. In 1793 Horatio Nelson calls at Naples as part of a campaign to unite Italy against French aggression. Emma is smitten with him, but he almost immediately dashed off to confront a military emergency. After Nelson won the Battle of the Nile at abu-Kir (1798), he returned to Naples, minus an arm, an eye, and a lot of teeth. Nelson spent well over a year in the Hamilton home. Thence he returned to England with the Hamiltons and Emma's mother, arriving in 1800. Once in London, Nelson lived with the other 3. Nelson's daughter Horatia was born in early 1801. Late that year Nelson purchased Merton Place, a fixer-upper to which the quartet moved. The Emma-Horatio affair increasingly became a public scandal and Nelson's wife made their separation final. In 1803 Hamilton died and Nelson finally took up the sea again. He died in 1805 during his great victory at Trafalgar.
We see Emma's downward spiral begin, but we never see its end nor really learn its cause other than unspecified money problems. Emma had a gambling addiction. She died in Calais of liver failure (1815; not in the film).
The film itself is wonderful theater. Winston Churchill said he had seen it over 100 times. The director was the great Alexander Korda and the idiomatic music was by the brilliant Miklós Rózsa. The 5 principal roles are taken by a quintet of Britain's best. Horatio Nelson is played with enormous sincerity and passion by Lawrence Olivier. Sir Larry, which I'm certain nobody ever calls him to his face, was one of those dramaturgic prodigies of which Britain has produced so many and America so few. This rôle, relatively early in his career, already shows his mastery of the art of acting.
As if being treated to Olivier weren't enough, Emma is played by the gorgeous Vivien Leigh. Leigh was a lively, intelligent, radiant actress no wonder Olivier fell in love with her whilst they were making "Fire Over England". She made few films after THW, mostly due to persistent bouts with tuberculosis. Although she doesn't exactly resemble Emma, she is not exactly unlike her either. Her performance here is, until tragedy begins to overwhelm Emma, chock-full of joie de vivre.
William Hamilton is played by the venerable screen regular (171 films), Alan Mowbray. His aristocratic yet warm bearing allowed him to play a wide variety of roles; he is marvelously effective here. Mowbray spent his last years (1956-1969) appearing in American TV programs.
Emma's mother is portrayed by the estimable and talented Sara Allgood. Her warm, motherly face brought her many parts as a mother, a landlady, a neighbor, what have you.
The important, somewhat smaller, part of Lady Nelson was taken by the wonderful Gladys Cooper. Her bearing and diction led her to such rôles as Duchesses and other nobility or others of like personality. Her best-known rôle was Mrs. Higgins, Henry Higgins' mother, in Shaw's play Pygmalion and the musical made from it, My Fair Lady. As Nelson's wife, her grief shows subtly and clearly below her forbearance. Many who take similar parts could learn much from watching her here.
This DVD is of Chinese manufacture. There is no British or American copy yet. The subtitles are Chinese but not English, alas -- but the actors speak clearly and precisely. When the playback started, the main titles were unclear and the sound was badly reproduced. I expected the worst until the main film started. This had been digitally improved so that the sound was much better. The images were also clear, although the dark tones were somewhat muted. I'm sure the film will eventually come out with a better print, but this isn't half-bad.
This is a great film and no mistake. Vivien Leigh is just so
breathtakingly stunning as the beautiful Emma Hamilton (Lady Hamilton
was the most beautiful woman in Europe or even the world at the time so
I'm glad they cast the right person!!) Laurence Olivier was also fine
as Nelson, though occasionally hamming up some parts with Vivien
(understandably so, since Vivien seduces him on screen and off) But you
can feel the chemistry a mile off and thats what matters. Another
thing, and this is why its Churchill's favourite: IT's sOOOO pro
ENGLAND!!! Its fantastic. They just all ooze in the greatness of their
country, especially Emma's morbid and annoying husband William.
The music too is beautiful. The best scene is when Vivien (Lady Hamilton) thinks she's left behind by Nelson; and then as the music soars in the violinistic passion, she rushes on to the balcony and finds him there. GORGEOUS!!! sob sob Esther's rating: 10
This is a great story with great acting and great dialog. Vivien Leigh was never more beautiful. The dying words of Lord Nelson are historically accurate; he really did speak repeatedly of Emma Hamilton, his lover in spite of being married.
Sir Laurence Olivier in his autobiography said that if he was to
portray Horatio Nelson as his researches later showed, his Nelson would
have been a far more complex and neurotic man who was going through
what now would be described as a midlife crisis. That's not what the
British public wanted in 1941 and Alexander Korda who shot the film in
exile in America wasn't going to give them that.
Whatever the scandals of his private life as a seaman and a naval leader, Horatio Nelson was the real deal. One of the reasons I think he's come down that way in British history is for a most American of all reasons. He was a Horatio Alger success story. He was the son of an obscure country vicar who had way too many mouths to feed. Nelson's mom died while he was still a kid and he made the decision to go off to sea as a cabin boy. He rose in the ranks strictly on merit and talent and turned out to be the right man to save his country from certain invasion. Over 60 years later, Olivier's portrayal still rings true.
The real Emma Hamilton was shall we say, a bit more of a full figured gal than Vivien Leigh was and quite a bit more bawdy. The scenes where Nelson and the Hamiltons finally meet is one of the key ones. Emma's mother is delightfully played by Sara Allgood and as you see here at dinner with the Hamiltons and the Nelsons you appreciate where Emma's roots were, lower on the class scale than Nelson's.
Olivier and Leigh around the time of this film, got shed of their respective spouses and tied the knot. There's was a tempestuous marriage indeed, probably the kind that Nelson and Emma might have had if the opportunity came there way.
Of course Nelson living with the Hamiltons and openly flaunting their relationship scandalized Georgian society. The religious right would have a field day with him today, just as they did with Bill Clinton. Yet when Napoleon Bonaparte got his fleet put together and was sailing with the eventual invasion of Great Britain in mind, wasn't it funny that somehow no one really cared about Nelson's private life and just wanted the best man they had in the navy to save them. Nelson's life made a mockery of those no fraternization laws that the military hold so dear.
The other great British hero of the Napoleonic Wars was the Duke of Wellington. He did a stint as Prime Minister and became a controversial figure in his political career. One of the great speculations is if Nelson had not been killed at Trafalgar, repelling the French invasion, what kind of life he would have had. The Nelson here and in real life was not a political man, but like Dwight Eisenhower here, might have considered that career and who knows where he would have wound up on the issues that concerned Great Britain for the next couple of generations.
Larry and Viv head a remarkable group of players that bring to life the story of a most remarkable British hero.
Vivian Leigh plays opposite her husband Laurence Olivier in this picturesque film set in the 1800's. Vivian plays Emma the part of a woman who has a rather unsavory past, who comes to Marsaille to live with the Ambassador there. Beautiful scenery sets the stage for a bold romantic tale of two people meeting quite by chance and how life changes for her as she is thrust into relationships with Royalty and a Captain Hamilton who's is fighting battles for the English Navy. It is a wonderful movie,exciting, extravagant, will hold your attention. Very enjoyable and will be a movie you will want to add to your library of films. I give this movie a "10".
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