“Lady Hamilton is one of the very best women in the world, and an honor to her sex.”
The young new wife (Vivien Leigh) of a middle-aged widower (Alan Mowbray) falls in love with Lord Nelson (Laurence Olivier), a gallant married officer fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Perhaps best known as Winston Churchill’s favorite film (he purportedly saw it over 80 times), That Hamilton Woman is, as Peary notes, a “combination of great romance… and pro-British wartime propaganda”, and arguably “features Vivien Leigh’s finest performance”. He notes that it’s “a tribute to the bravery, intelligence, and resourcefulness of women”, and lauds Leigh’s Lady Hamilton — one of cinema’s “most impressive woman characters” — as “brainy, witty, flirtatious when need be, serious when she wants to be, able to handle any situation or impress any person, beautiful, optimistic, helpful, caring [and] passionate”. He calls the film “lavishly produced, maturely scripted, [and] beautifully acted and directed”, and concludes that Churchill “had good taste”.
While not all critics feel the same way, I am largely in agreement with Peary’s generous assessment here. Alexander Korda’s production is superbly mounted on all counts, from its sumptuous sets and costumes to the finely nuanced performances by all involved. Leigh and Olivier — whose real-life adulterous relationship notoriously mirrored their characters’ on-screen affair — make for an undeniably romantic star-crossed couple, one which “has few equals in romantic annals”, given that Olivier (in superbly done make-up) “is rigid but dashing” while Leigh “is radiant, alive, aware, [and] available”. Meanwhile, Alan Mowbray and Gladys Cooper are surprisingly convincing and sympathetic in what could have been merely thankless roles, playing cuckolded spouses who are helpless in the face of a love which clearly transcends marriage vows.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Vivien Leigh as Lady Hamilton (nominated by Peary as one of the best actresses of the year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Laurence Olivier as Lord Nelson
- Alan Mowbray as Lord Hamilton
- Gladys Cooper as Lady Nelson
- Rudolph Mate’s cinematography
Yes, for Leigh’s performance, and as an overall good show.