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That Hamilton woman posterActing spouses Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh star in Alexander Korda's tragic tale of the adulterous love affair between Emma Lady Hamilton and Lord Horatio Nelson. The story begins in 1786, as the young and vivacious Emma Hart (Vivien Leigh) marries Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), the British ambassador to the court of Naples. Seven years pass and British naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier) arrives at court to gain the king's assent in the war against Napoleon. Lady Emma and Lord Nelson fall in love. When they return to England, Emma and Nelson unashamedly begin to live together, although Nelson's wife refuses to divorce him. When the war takes a bad turn, Emma convinces Nelson to resume command and Nelson goes off to lead the victory at Trafalgar, where he is mortally wounded. After Nelson's death, Emma falls into depression and despair.

Cast: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Alan Mowbray, Henry Wilcoxon, Sara Allgood, Gladys Cooper
Directed By: Alexander Korda
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 125 minutes

Review

By Scott Nash

That Hamilton Woman is reported to have been Winston Churchill's favorite movie. Some even go so far as to say he requested it be made and had a hand in writing a few scenes of dialogue. He once claimed to have seen the film over 80 times. Released in 1941 when England stood virtually alone against the Nazi menace, it's easy to see why he would it enjoy it with its clear parallels to the then present situation.

That Hamilton womanThe film tells the story of the notorious love affair between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.

Emma Hamilton was a woman who pulled herself up from the gutter using her beauty, her charm and her body in an era when class distinction would normally make such a thing impossible. As played by Vivien Leigh at the height of her beauty, it is easy to believe that she accomplished it.

At the start of the film she is traded as mistress from a nephew to his uncle for 5,000 pounds. The man she is traded to (Lord Hamilton) is the British Ambassador to Naples. He is a collector of beautiful things and means to add Emma to his collection. Meaning merely to make her his mistress, Emma charms him into making her his wife. While she is happy to live in luxury and genuinely seems fond of Lord Hamilton, there is no chemistry between them. When Admiral Nelson appears one day looking for aid That Hamilton womanin fighting Napoleon's navy, it is Lady Hamilton, with the ear of the Queen of Naples, who is able to help him. It is with Nelson (played by Leigh's real life husband Olivier) that she shares chemistry galore.

Right from the prologue of the film you can see that this isn't going to be a love story with a happy ending. This adds poignancy to the love affair and keeps the story not only historically accurate but believable. You can see right away that there's no way in that era for these two to have a happy ending.

The scenes that Churchill would have enjoyed and might have written are easy to pick out. Several times Lord Nelson makes impassioned speeches railing against Napoleon and those who would try to make peace with him. He condemns countries who cower before dictators and praises the bravery of England who is willing to stand alone in the cause of freedom. I'm sure it resonated not only with Churchill but with all of England during their "finest hour".

That Hamilton woman4It's not the propaganda or the battle scenes that make this movie work though. It is the vivacious and charismatic Vivien Leigh who does that. It's quite easy to see why all of the men in this movie fall in love with her. She is beauty, charm and grace personified. If the movie seems to drag on for too long at times, it is only because there are too many scenes without her.

You can enjoy this movie simply as an old fashioned romantic epic, or you can read between the lines as Churchill did and see it as part allegory for Britain's situation at the start of World War II. Either way you do it, this is still a classic love story.

Trailer