I finally had the opportunity of seeing the classic film, That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton) starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. The 1941 British film has only recently been re-released and is now available on DVD, or in my case on TCM, what luck!
First of all, I'll begin by saying I am biased toward Leigh, since I became a Gone With the Wind fan at the same time as I was watching Disney Movies. The lady can do no wrong.
That Hamilton Woman portrays the legendary romance of Lady Emma Hamilton (Leigh) and war hero Lord Nelson (Olivier). The movie opens with a lady-street urchin walking into a wine shop in Calais (wow Calais hasn't changed much in 100 years) and sneakily stealing a bottle of wine. The authorities spot her and a fight breaks out, resulting in the culprit and a woman who came to her defense landing in jail. Once in jail, the clepto reveals herself as Emma Lady Hamilton and tells her tale beginning with her arrival in Naples. You know how it goes; teenage Emma gets dumped with Sir William, they marry, she meets Nelson, they fall in love and conduct their affair in front of everyone.
Like I said, I am biased. I love Leigh, even though her British accent (which is real) is very similar to her southern drawl. I love the chemistry between her and Olivier; very steamy. They are convincing in their affection for each other and stay true to their characters. Leigh portrays a strong Emma Hamilton, and at the same time makes sure to include the elements of Emma's poor background. The costumes on the other hand are disappointing in the sense of accuracy. If you are a fan of early 40s movie fashions you will not be disappointed, but otherwise they didn't even try to be accurate like they did in the 1938 Marie Antoinette. I was even delighted to see that Georgiana's brother plays a role and, of course, wears a Spencer!
One of my favourite scenes of the movie is when Emma introduces Nelson to the Queen of Naples (Norma Drury), whom Emma was close with. The two enter a room of chaos: screaming children, barking dogs, and fretting servants. Among all this is the glittering blonde vision that is Queen Maria Carolina who is rapidly yelling in Italian, adding to the chaos. If it weren't for all the glitz and glam you would have thought you ran into a family in a trailer park. No wonder Emma and the queen bonded so well.
As a whole the film is great. It doesn't stray too far from the truth and keeps your interest. It has the classic flair, complete with running in giant dresses and emotional embraces. So take advantage of its release and enjoy the nice, clean film restoration.