Cast & Crew
In Calais, a destitute English woman is caught stealing a bottle of wine and put in jail, where she tells another prisoner, Mary Smith, that she is the once-famous Emma, Lady Hamilton: In 1786, beautiful young Emma Hart arrives in Naples with her mother, Mrs. Cadogan-Lyon, at the palace of Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador and uncle of her lover, Charles Greville. Emma is shocked when Hamilton informs her that Charles never intended to marry her, and that he sent her to Naples in exchange for money to pay off his debts. Hamilton offers Emma a new life in Naples, and she agrees to stay with him, eventually becoming his wife. One morning they are visited by Horatio Nelson, a British naval officer, who tells them that England is now at war with France. Nelson has come to Naples seeking military support, and Emma uses her influence with the queen to secure troops for him. However, the ensuing five years of war exhaust both the resources of the navy and the sympathy of the neighboring European countries, who are, Nelson bitterly complains, too intimidated by Napoleon Bonaparte to stand behind England. While anchored outside of Naples, Nelson receives a visit from Emma, who is horrified to see that he has lost an arm and the sight in one eye. She brings a promise of assistance from the queen, and Nelson goes on to defeat Napoleon in Egypt. After returning to Naples in triumph, Nelson is overcome by illness and nursed by Emma, with whom he falls in love. Nelson, who is married, departs for Malta, but disobeys orders and returns to Naples when word reaches him that revolution has broken out. He saves the royal family and the Hamiltons, but his actions earn him the scorn and disapproval of the British Admiralty, who order him to return to England alone. While awaiting Nelson at a London hotel, the dour Lady Frances Nelson and her father-in-law, Reverend Nelson, are visited by Lord Spencer, who discreetly reports that Nelson has already arrived, accompanied by Emma. The next day, Emma faints at the House of Lords, and Lady Nelson, concluding that Emma is pregnant, angrily reproaches her husband and vows never to divorce him. Reverend Nelson implores his son to do the right thing and end his affair with Emma, but Nelson refuses. After Emma gives birth to a daughter, Horatia, her mother urges her to reconcile with the ailing Hamilton, if only to protect her inheritance, but Emma refuses and is left penniless when he dies. Nelson and Emma move to a home in the country, where they live happily until 1805, when Nelson is called to defend England against Napoleon, who has formed an alliance with Spain. Nelson leads his men to a stunning victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, but is killed by a sharpshooter's bullet. Nelson's aide, Captain Hardy, tearfully brings the news to Emma, and years later, in the jail at Calais, she observes that the story of her life ended at that tragic moment.
Raymond A. Klune
R. C. Sherriff
Lyle Reynolds Wheeler
William H. Wilmarth
Best Art Direction
Best Special Effects
That Hamilton Woman
Korda's mission in Hollywood in the early days of the war was as much political as it was industry focused. Naturally he was pursuing production opportunities away from Great Britain's wartime restrictions and without having to shoot exteriors around air raids and military maneuvers. In addition, he wanted to be on hand to help manage the career of actress Merle Oberon who was his wife. He had also been asked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to use his business offices in New York as an information clearing house for British Intelligence and to come up with a film that could help with the war effort. Added to that was a personal goal. Korda wanted to re-team Olivier and Leigh, whose romance had blossomed while working on his Fire Over England (1937) back home. Beyond his personal fondness for the couple, he knew they were in financial straits at the time. Although both were popular in the U.S., they had turned down film roles that didn't appeal to them in order to star in a Broadway run of Romeo and Juliet, produced with their own money. When the production failed financially, they needed work.
After Korda rejected a film about Elizabeth I's romance with the Earl of Essex, which would have miscast the young and beautiful Leigh, and a screen version of Shakespeare's Henry V, which didn't have a large enough role for her, Churchill suggested the story of Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton. According to legend, he even wrote some of Nelson's more political speeches about the need to stand up against dictators. Though the admiral was referring to Napoleon, the reference to Hitler was obvious. The film, however, was not a political diatribe and Korda cleverly had the screenplay focus on the romantic story. This masked the propaganda while also providing a showcase for Leigh, who was clearly the bigger star on the strength of her success in Gone with the Wind (1939).
The cash-strapped Korda had to get money from his wife to start shooting, but that didn't stop him from demanding the best. When his brother Vincent, who served as the film's production designer, created a massive library to serve as the main setting in Naples, Korda demanded it be changed overnight into a bedroom to better fit the film's romantic elements. For the naval battles, Vincent constructed a fleet of miniature ships -- just large enough for a props man to lie inside to fire the miniature cannons and manipulate the sails. As Korda shouted directions from a raised platform, technicians in fishing waders moved the boats in a pool of water that came up to their chests. The largest ship had a deck for love scenes between Olivier and Leigh, though she became so seasick from the rocking motions the crew created that she required Dramamine to get through the scenes without becoming nauseous.
Olivier was intrigued by the opportunity to play a hero not in the Hollywood mold, and particularly relished the chance to play scenes after Nelson had lost a hand and an eye in battle. Yet he couldn't get a definitive answer on which hand and eye had been injured. After the production crew failed to dig up the information, Korda remembered that an old acquaintance, a retired opera singer living in Van Nuys, California, had played the admiral in a turn-of-the-century operetta. They brought him to the set as a consultant only to learn that he didn't know the answer either. All he could remember was that he had gotten bored during the show's run and switched sides each night to keep his performance fresh.
Leigh and Olivier were happy to be working together again, after failing in several attempts to get Hollywood producers to cast them opposite each other in films such as Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice (both 1940). But they were also eager to get back to England to help with the war effort at home. Neither cared for Hollywood, and they didn't like socializing with most of the British actors working there, who they felt had become too Americanized. Their one consolation was that they were married a month before filming began (they had both recently divorced their first spouses). That Hamilton Woman is their only film together as husband and wife.
Korda was so rushed getting the picture into production that he didn't have a complete script when shooting started. Often the actors were being handed scenes the night before and sometimes even the day they were shot. That also meant he had not submitted the script to the Production Code Administration (PCA) for approval. When the film was finally finished, he screened a rough cut for PCA head Joseph Breen, who told him it could not be shown in most U.S. theatres because of the leading characters' adulterous relationship. Korda and Breen argued vehemently over the love story, with Korda using history as his defense while Breen questioned the entire focus of the film. The latter felt the movie glorified their affair at the expense of his marriage, with his wife (played by Gladys Cooper) presented as cold and uncaring. Finally, working with Breen, Korda shot a scene in which Hamilton admits to his father that he knows the relationship is immoral but is too much of a coward to leave Lady Hamilton. Korda hated the scene so much he had it cut shortly after the picture's release.
By that time, however, That Hamilton Woman was a major hit. Although critics, particularly in England, felt that the picture turned Nelson's great naval campaigns into a pretext for a tawdry love story, most of them praised Leigh's performance. Churchill was so thrilled with the picture he showed it repeatedly to staff members and even screened it for President Franklin Roosevelt before America's entry into World War II. He would continue screening the film privately long after his retirement, eventually claiming to have seen it 83 times.
Even disguised as a romance, the film's political message came through clearly. Although that helped sell it to British audiences in the midst of the London Blitz (and Soviet audiences, who made it the nation's first foreign film hit), it caused some consternation in Washington, particularly among conservative senators and congressmen trying to keep the nation out of war. A House committee had already questioned Hollywood producers about pro-war propaganda in films such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940). When they subpoenaed Korda, many thought he was about to become a scapegoat for their anger at Hollywood. There was even talk of his being deported. His appearance was scheduled for December 17, 1941, but five days earlier the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the U.S. into World War II and putting an end to the investigation.
Producer-Director: Alexander Korda
Screenplay: Walter Reisch & R.C. Sherriff
Cinematographer: Rudolph Mate
Art Direction: Vincent Korda
Score: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Vivien Leigh (Emma Lady Hamilton), Laurence Olivier (Lord Horatio Nelson), Alan Mowbray (Sir William Hamilton), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Cadogan-Lyon), Gladys Cooper (Lady Frances Nelson), Henry Wilcoxon (Captain Hardy), Heather Angel (A Streetgirl), Miles Mander (Lord Keith), Luis Alberni (King of Naples).
by Frank Miller
That Hamilton Woman
And then?- The Streetgirl
Then what?- Emma
What happened after?- The Streetgirl
There is no "then". There is no "after".- Emma
Reportedly 'Churchill, Winston' 's favorite movie. He claimed to have seen it 83 times.
The working title of this film was Lady Hamilton, which was also the title of the British release. Many reviews referred to the film as That Hamilton Woman!, and, according to a November 13, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was at one time going to be released under the title The Enchantress. The real Emma Hamilton (born Amy Lyon, c. 1765) fell into bankruptcy after the death of Horatio, Lord Nelson, and in 1813 was arrested for debt. The next year she fled to Calais, where she died in 1815. In her youth, she was a favorite model of English portrait painter George Romney, who painted her in a number of historical guises. Hollywood Reporter production charts include C. Aubrey Smith and George Renavent in the cast, but they were not in the final film.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office was concerned that the film's script was too tolerant of the main characters' adultery. In a October 30, 1940 letter to producer-director Alexander Korda, Joseph I. Breen proposed that the screenwriters "punch up" a speech in which Nelson's father urges him to end the affair, adding that the film would benefit from "this very positive condemnation and prediction of disaster, which will follow as a result of their sin." Breen even provided some sample dialogue, in which Reverend Nelson invoked the laws of God and predicted that the lovers would end up in the gutter. The exchange between Nelson and his father, as depicted in the released film, is relatively mild. However, modern biographies of Korda report that the scene was rewritten to satisfy the Hays Office and ended with Nelson admitting that the affair was wrong, but protesting that he was simply too weak to leave Emma. According to these biographies, Korda was unhappy with this compromise, and had the scene cut out of the film after its release.
That Hamilton Woman had its premiere at the Four Star Theatre in Los Angeles on March 19, 1941. The event was a benefit performance for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. The film's New York opening, as part of Radio City Music Hall's Easter stage spectacles, set an eight-year attendance record when more than 11,000 people came to the first two performances, according to press releases contained in the United Artists production file at the AMPAS Library. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording, and was nominated for Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White) and Best Special Effects. In addition, King George VI rewarded Alexander Korda's efforts with a knighthood, the first time this honor was bestowed on a film producer.
Although the film greatly impressed the British monarchy, it created controversy in the United States, where strong isolationist sentiments were widely held. Many reviews commented on the film's attempt to draw parallels between the Napoleonic Wars and the current situation in Europe, citing an impassioned speech in which Nelson warns that Napoleon is bent on world conquest and proclaims: "You cannot make peace with dictators. You have to destroy them." This speech brought Korda under suspicion by a Senate sub-committee investigating the film industry for allegedly producing pro-war propaganda. In November 1941, Korda received a subpoena to appear before the committee on 12 Dec, but the 7 December attack on Pearl Harbor rendered the investigation moot. According to modern sources, the film was expressly intended as pro-British propaganda, with the love story between Nelson and Emma serving as camouflage for the political agenda. Modern biographies assert that Korda left England for the United States at the request of Winston Churchill, with a twofold mission: to make films that would arouse pro-British sentiments, and to use his New York offices as a cover for British intelligence operations. Korda later told his nephew and biographer, Michael Korda, "Only four people knew what I was doing-Brendan Bracken, Max Beaverbrook, Churchill and myself."
Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier were married shortly before production on the film began. That Hamilton Woman was their third and final film together. An earlier film inspied by the love affair between Nelson and Emma Hamilton was the 1929 First National picture The Divine Lady, directed by Frank Lloyd and starring Corrine Griffith and Victor Varconi (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).