That Hamilton Woman

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That Hamilton Woman (Lady Hamilton)
Directed by Alexander Korda
Produced by Alexander Korda
Written by Walter Reisch
R. C. Sherriff
Starring Laurence Olivier
Vivien Leigh
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by William W. Hornbeck
Distributed by United Artists (UK/US)
Release dates
  • April 30, 1941 (1941-04-30)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office ₤119,305 (UK, 1948 re-release)[1]

That Hamilton Woman, also known as Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white historical film drama, produced and directed by Alexander Korda for his American company during his exile in the United States.[2] Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of Emma Hamilton (Vivien Leigh), dance-hall girl and courtesan, who married Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, and became mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier).


The story begins with an ageing, alcoholic woman being clapped into debtors' prison in the slums of Calais. In a husky, despairing, whiskey-soaked voice, the former Lady Hamilton narrates the story of her life to her skeptical fellow inmates. In one of the early scenes that launches the flashback, Emma, well past her prime, looks into a mirror and remembers "the face I knew before," the face of the young, lovely girl who captured the imagination of artists - most notably George Romney and Joshua Reynolds.

In the final scene, Emma's cellmate, The Streetgirl, asks what Emma did after Emma learned of Nelson's death:
The Streetgirl: "And then?"
Emma: "Then what?"
The Streetgirl: "What happened after?"
Emma: "There is no then. There is no after." [3]

Emma Hart's early life as the mistress of the charming but unreliable Charles Francis Greville leads to her meeting with his wealthy uncle Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), the British ambassador to Naples.

Kaart Italie Napels

Greville gives Emma to Sir William in exchange for relief on his debts. At first Emma is crushed by this turn of events. Gradually, however, she comes to appreciate her luxurious surroundings and her glamorous new life. She also grows to respect Sir William, who marries her and explains the reasons for Britain's war against Napoleon. When Horatio Nelson arrives in Naples, Emma is soon deeply attracted to him and is impressed by his passionate insistence on resisting Napoleon's dictatorial rule. She leaves Sir William to live with Nelson, who is also married. Their idyllic life together is threatened by the continuing war and their infidelity to their spouses. Nelson leaves to confront Napoleon's navy in the decisive Battle of Trafalgar. After his death in the battle, she succumbs to alcoholism and spirals down into poverty and oblivion.

Original studio publicity photo of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh for the film That Hamilton Woman (1941).



HMS Victory made for That Hamilton Woman

Shot in the United States during September and October 1940,[4] the film defines Britain's struggle against Napoleon in terms of resistance to a dictator who seeks to dominate the world.[5] It was intended as a parallel with the current situation in Europe, and was intended as propaganda at a time before the attack on Pearl Harbor when the United States was still formally neutral.[6] Korda's brother Vincent designed the sets, creating Sir William Hamilton's palatial home that looked out over the sea of Naples, as well as the interiors of Merton Place: the home Emma and Nelson shared when they returned to England. On a tight budget, Korda completed filming in only five weeks,[5] working from an original screenplay by Walter Reisch and R.C. Sherriff. Originally intended to be named The Enchantress, the film was first released in Britain as Lady Hamilton.[5]

The supporting cast includes Sara Allgood as Emma's mother, Gladys Cooper as Lady Nelson, and Alan Mowbray as William Hamilton, Emma's husband, the British ambassador to Naples and collector of objets d'art.

Movie tagline: The Year's Most Exciting Team of Screen Lovers![7]

Because of the strict Motion Picture Production Code, the two lovers never appear in bed together, nor ever even partially undressed together. Before the affair begins, Emma sits on her bed, wherein Nelson is recovering from exhaustion, to feed him some soup. According to K.R.M. Short's study of the film, the major problem for the Production Code office was not the scenes showing romantic encounters: It was the script's treating an "adulterous relationship as a romance instead of a sin" [8]


Stars Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were newlyweds at the time of filming and were considered a "dream couple". That Hamilton Woman is one of three films they made together. Their first film, Fire Over England, was also produced by Korda. In one scene Nelson (Laurence Olivier) says he has received orders from Admiral Hood; Olivier played Admiral Hood 43 years later in The Bounty (1984).

While the movie was marketed as historical romance, its subtext falls into the "war propaganda" category. In July 1941, the isolationist group America First Committee (AFC) targeted That Hamilton Woman and three other major Hollywood feature films (The Great Dictator, Chaplin/United Artists, 1940; Foreign Correspondent, Wanger/United Artists, 1940; The Mortal Storm, MGM, 1940) as productions that "seemed to be preparing Americans for war."[9] The AFC called on the American public to boycott theaters showing these movies.[9]

Informed of Napoleon's promise of peace, Nelson replies in a speech that clearly links the historical narrative to the contemporary threat of a dictator at war:
"Gentlemen, you will never make peace with Napoleon…Napoleon cannot be master of the world until he has smashed us up, and believe me, gentlemen, he means to be master of the world! You cannot make peace with dictators. You have to destroy them–wipe them out!"
That Hamilton Woman [3]

Critical sources usually point out that That Hamilton Woman was Winston Churchill's favorite film.[10] In “Remakes, Outtakes, and Updates in Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover,” Stacey Olster claims that it was Winston Churchill who suggested the story of the Hamilton/Nelson romance because of his interest in a vehicle “that would promote Britain's historic role as a scourge of tyrants (Hitler here equated with Bonaparte).” [11] Olster reveals that at the time the movie was made, Alexander Korda’s New York offices were “supplying cover to MI-5 agents gathering intelligence on both German activities in the United States and isolationist sentiments among makers of American foreign policy.”[12] According to Olivier’s biographer, Anthony Holden, That Hamilton Woman “became Exhibit A in a case brought against Korda by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee had accused him of operating an espionage and propaganda center for Britain in the United States—a charge Korda only escaped by virtue of the fact that his scheduled appearance before the committee on December 12, 1941 was preempted by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor five days earlier".[13]

George Romney - Emma Hart in a Straw Hat


Bosley Crowther said the film is "just a running account of a famous love affair, told with deep sympathy for the participants against a broad historic outline of the times....Perhaps if it had all been condensed and contrived with less manifest awe, the effect would have been more exciting and the love story would have had more poignancy. As it is, the little drama in the picture is dissipated over many expansive scenes; compassion is lost in marble halls." Of the two stars, he said "Vivien Leigh's entire performance as Lady Hamilton is delightful to behold. All of the charm and grace and spirit which Miss Leigh contains is beautifully put to use to capture the subtle spell which Emma most assuredly must have weaved. Laurence Olivier's Nelson is more studied and obviously contrived, and his appearance is very impressive, with the famous dead eye and empty sleeve."[14]

Academy Awards[edit]

At the 14th Academy Awards the film won for Best Sound and was nominated for three more.[15][16]

Films about Lady Hamilton

Further reading[edit]


Specific references:

  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000
  2. ^ Brian McFarlane (ed.) The Encyclopedia of British Film, London: BFI/Methuen, 2003, p.370
  3. ^ a b That Hamilton Woman. Dir. Alexander Korda. Perf. Viven Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Alan Mowbray. United Artists, 1941 Film.
  4. ^ ''That Hamilton Woman (1941) - Original Print Information",
  5. ^ a b c Haskell, Molly. That Hamilton Woman: An Alexander Korda Film (2009)
  6. ^ Janet Moat "That Hamilton Woman (1941)", BFI screenonline
  7. ^
  8. ^ K. R. M. Short, "That Hamilton Woman! (1941): Propaganda, Feminism and the Production Code", Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 11.1 (1991), 10.
  9. ^ a b Chambers II, John Whiteclay (2006). "The Movies and the Antiwar Debate in America, 1930-1941". Film & History 36.1: 51. 
  10. ^ Lasky, Jr., Jesse (1978). Love Scene: The Story of Laurence Olivier and Viven Leigh. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell. pp. 133–134. 
  11. ^ Olster, Stacey (1995). "Remakes, Outtakes, and Updates in Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover". Modern Fiction Studies 41.1: 122. 
  12. ^ Olster, Stacey (1995). "Remakes, Outtakes, and Updates in Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover". Modern Fiction Studies 41.1: 123. 
  13. ^ Holden, Anthony (1988). Laurence Olivier. Atheneum-Macmillan. p. 166. 
  14. ^ "That Hamilton Woman, the Story of a Historic Love Affair". The New York Times. April 4, 1941. Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  15. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  16. ^ "That Hamilton Woman (1941)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 

General references:

External links[edit]

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