That Hamilton Woman (1940): Alexander Korda’s Romantic Drama Starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh

Produced and directed in Hollywood by Alexander Korda, That Hamilton Woman told the love story of Britain’s Admiral Lord Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Emma, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh). 


The film was meant to be a tribute to British resolve in the face of adversity, and as such served as effective pro-British propaganda, fostering strong feelings for the embattled nation.  No wonder it was Sir Winston Churchill’s favorite movie, which he screened many times fort him, his cabinet and his friends.


Set against the background of the British war with France, “That Hamilton Woman” traced the touching Nelson-Hamilton romance from the time Emma became the wife of Lord Hamilton through her years with Nelson until his death, while defending England against Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar.


The narrative begins in prison, where an older, drunken woman, jailed for theft, tells her life story in a flashback to her captivated cellmate.  It begins in Naples in 1786 with Emma Hart about to get married to the nephew of the British ambassador, who proves to be an irresponsible rascal.  Impressed with her conduct, the ambassador himself, Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), decides to marry her.   Turning point occurs seven years later, when the handsome naval hero Lord Nelson (Olivier) arrives in Naples to seek the king’s help in his fight against Napoleon.


Vivien Leigh, two years after winning the Best Actress Oscar for “Gone With the Wind,” was then at the height of her popularity—and beauty.


The tale was remade in 1973 in a more faithfully factual version as “The Nelson Affair,” starring Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson.




Vivien Leigh

Laurence Olivier

Alan Mowbray

Sara Allgood

Gladys Cooper

Henry Wilcoxon

Heather Angel

Halliwell Hobbes

Gilbert Emery

Miles Mander

Ronald Sonclair

Luis Alberni

Norma Drury

Olaf Hytten

Juliette Compton

Guy Kingsford




Produced and directed by Alexander Korda.

Screenplay by Walter Reisch and R.C. Sherriff.

Release date: April 3, 1941