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That Hamilton Woman (1941)

Tuesday, February 14, 2023, 7:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

(Alexander Korda, U.S. 1941, 128 min., 35mm)

In a debtor’s prison in the slums of Calais, the former Lady Hamilton narrates the story of her life to her skeptical fellow inmates. In a series of flashbacks, Emma (Vivien Leigh) describes herself when she was younger and was the muse for several artists, including George Romney and Joshua Reynolds. In earlier years, Emma was the mistress of Charles Francis Greville, which led her to a meeting with his wealthy uncle, Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples. Greville gives Emma to Sir William in exchange for relief of his debts. At first Emma is crushed by this turn of events but soon grows to appreciate Hamilton, who eventually marries her. However, when Horatio Nelson (Laurence Oliver) arrives in Naples, Emma becomes deeply infatuated with him and leaves Hamilton to live with Nelson, causing scandal. What ensues next is a whirlwind romance spanning the continent of Europe. Olivier and Leigh began an affair while starring as lovers in Fire Over England in 1937. At the time both were married to others. Though neither of their spouses granted them a divorce, the pair lived together. Finally, on August 31, 1940, the two were married. Together, they created a stage production of Romeo and Juliet for Broadway and filmed That Hamilton Woman in 1941. Oliver and Leigh would eventually divorce in 1960.

This 35mm print is courtesy of UCLA Film Archive.

Post-screening discussion with Audrey Johnson, curator of the “Hollywood Pairings”