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A partly fictionalized account of history begins with the arrival of slatternly Emma Hart, a cook's daughter, at the home of Charles Greville. Greville takes her as his lover and grooms her until their relationship becomes an inconvenience. Greville then dupes Emma into traveling to Naples to live with his uncle, Lord Hamilton, ambassador to the court at Naples. Realizing that Greville has abandoned her, Emma agrees to marry Lord Hamilton. Soon, however, she meets Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British Navy. Emma plays a crucial role in convincing Naples to open its ports to Nelson during his campaign against Napoleon's French fleet. Soon, Emma and the married Nelson become romantically involved -- a relationship which will have consequences for them both.Written by
Shannon Patrick Sullivan <email@example.com>
Scottish film-maker Frank Lloyd (a would-have-been birthday celebrant on the day I watched the film under review) was one of the founding members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – best-known for holding the annual Oscar ceremony. He was also the second Academy Award winner for Best Direction for this rarely seen historical epic which, as it turned out, was the only film in Oscar history to win that category without an accompanying nod for Best Picture (a feat which, given the current rules, is practically impossible to repeat itself). However, Lloyd was even nominated for directing two more movies that same year – WEARY RIVER (which I own a copy of but did not manage to locate in time for inclusion in this ongoing Oscar marathon!) and the unavailable DRAG. He would later emerge victorious again for CAVALCADE (1933) and received his last nomination for MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935) which, like the latter, was also named Best Picture. For the record, his other films that have had notable brushes with Oscar were EAST LYNNE (1931), BERKELEY SQUARE (1933) and IF I WERE KING (1938) – and, although I have all three in my collection, they will have to wait a similarly-themed marathon for their first viewing. After such a distinguished career, Lloyd semi-retired in the mid-1940s and only made the occasional movie in the following decade before dying in 1960.
THE DIVINE LADY – not to be confused with the contemporaneous Greta Garbo vehicle THE DIVINE WOMAN (1928) only a fragment of which exists today – tells the oft-told tale of the controversial affair between Lady Emma Hamilton and Lord Horatio Nelson; I am already familiar with the Alexander Korda version of events entitled THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (1941; the only on screen pairing of then husband-and-wife team of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier) and also have the Glenda Jackson/Peter Finch- starring A BEQUEST TO THE NATION aka THE NELSON AFFAIR (1973) in my unwatched pile; for the record, I would love to catch Richard Oswald's even earlier LADY HAMILTON (1921), in which the ubiquitous pair of Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss played Nelson and Sir William Hamilton respectively, and Christian-Jaque's international version EMMA HAMILTON (1968) – with Michele Mercier, Richard Johnson and John Mills.
The narrative here starts out with an 'impoverished' aristocrat (Ian Keith) dismissing a newly-engaged cook (Marie Dressler) because of the "vulgar" antics of her daughter Emma Hart (an Oscar-nominated Corinne Griffith, though her name is bafflingly omitted in Roy Pickard's "The Oscar Movies From A-Z" and seems to be disputed elsewhere too!); her entreaties to rethink his harsh decision win him over and impress his artist friend who wants to paint a portrait of her. Before long, she is accompanying her employer on social occasions, until she embarrasses him by bursting into song at a fair thereby attracting the attentions of every male within hearing distance. He is convinced to dispose of her by thrusting her into the arms of his aging womanizing uncle Sir William Hamilton (H.B. Warner!) even though she had fallen for Keith himself in the meantime. He soon gets to regret his actions when the wealthy relative (whom he had hoped to inherit) marries the wench and turns her into Lady Emma Hamilton, Ambassadress to Sicily! Although that island is ostensibly neutral to the ongoing conflict between England and France, the king sides with France while the queen (sister to the deposed Marie Antoinette) secretly sides with Britain. When Lady Hamilton decides to intervene, the latter's allegiance is instrumental in overturning a Royal decree not to help the ailing British fleet headed by Admiral Horatio Nelson (Victor Varconi – who is not shown wearing a black patch over his blind eye but does get to lose a hand!). Apart from helping the British repel the enemy, this fateful event brings Emma and Horatio together for the first time and, as they say, the rest is history...
The understandably battered print – culled from the "Warner Archives" DVD-R – does not really do the film much justice but remains reasonably watchable throughout. Indeed THE DIVINE LADY is a handsomely mounted and well-crafted production (cinematographer John F. Seitz also received an Oscar nomination for his work here), with Lloyd's solid direction smoothing over the crude sound sequences interspersed throughout where we hear Emma Hamilton sing, and only calling attention to itself intermittently, as in the aforementioned fairground sequence.
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