Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. United Kingdom, 1941. Alexander Korda Films. Original Screenplay by Walter Reisch, R.C. Sherriff. Cinematography by Rudolph Mate. Produced by Alexander Korda. Music by Miklos Rozsa. Production Design by Vincent Korda. Costume Design by Rene Hubert. Film Editing by William Hornbeck. Academy Awards 1941.
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier play Emma Hamilton and Captain Horatio Nelson, who defied their rigid, early 19th-century society by becoming lovers despite being married to other people. She is the young bride to the ageing ambassador to Britain in the court of Naples, whose home he visits between military victories for the British isles, immediately discovering a burning passion that refuses to die. This is without a doubt a problem for his prim, dowdy wife (Gladys Cooper), who suffers in silence while her husband makes a mockery of her all over Europe with this overly plumed party girl. The tragedy wouldn’t be complete without giant, gorgeous ballrooms and candlelit dining rooms, but this film is no soapy dud. Though it wallows in its own stylish sense of despair, the dialogue is excellent and the performances superb: Leigh is energetically canny as the motivated heroine, and Olivier enjoys bathing her in his moony stares while also staying sharp and alert towards his character’s devotion to his career. The eventual sadness is inescapable, but getting to it is much more enjoyable than you might think. Reportedly Winston Churchill’s favourite movie, it is said the dude watched it 83 times.