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Film / That Hamilton Woman

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That Hamilton Woman, originally titled Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white historical film drama which takes place during The Napoleonic Wars, and tells the story of the rise and fall of Emma Hamilton, dance-hall girl and courtesan, who became mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson. Produced and directed by Alexander Korda, it stars Vivien Leigh as Emma, Lady Hamilton and Laurence Olivier as Horatio, Lord Nelson.


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This film contains examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Heavy on the bitter side. Nelson wins Trafalgar for England but dies of his wounds and Emma loses everything and winds up an aging lush in a French gaol.
  • Bookends: The film starts and ends with Lady Hamilton, having become an ageing woman, being imprisoned into a debtors' prison.
  • Cuckold: Sir William. He's bitterly resigned to it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sir William Hamilton and Lord Spencer. Emma gets a few good ones as well.
  • Dented Iron: Nelson has taken his fair share of injuries, having lost an arm and the use of an eye.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Not only is the story well-known in Britain, but also the movie uses a framing device.
  • The Ghost: Emma and Nelson's daughter Horatia is mentioned several times but never appears on screen.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Emma is treated fairly sympathetically and states that Sir William saw her as another beautiful piece for his collection.
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  • Good Shepard: Nelson's father Edmund, a country parson.
  • Henpecked Husband: The King of Naples.
  • Historical Beauty Update: While Lady Hamilton was noted for her great beauty, and as such being played by Vivien Leigh seems fitting, Lord Nelson was noted more for his accomplishments than for any physical handsomeness, whereas in this film he's played by Laurence Olivier.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Napoléon Bonaparte, mostly because the film is, on another level, about Britain's then-ongoing war against Adolf Hilter. Nelson makes a big scene of how he "means to be master of the world." In actual fact, the Napoleonic Wars were started by England when they broke Napoleon's treaties and declared war first.
  • Honor Before Reason: Lord Nelson insists on wearing all his medals in battle, even though this makes him an easy target for enemy snipers.
  • Lady of War: Lady Hamilton turns out to be one, against her own wishes, when the Napoleonic Wars come knocking.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: Lady Hamilton is always understanding of putting Nelson's higher calling first, but not without some struggle.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lord Spencer, who's relatively forgiving of Nelson's indiscretions.

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