The Nelson Affair (1973)

PG | 115 or 117-118 mins | Drama | April 1973

Director:

James Cellan Jones

Producer:

Hal B. Wallis

Cinematographer:

Gerry Fisher

Editor:

Anne V. Coates

Production Designer:

Carmen Dillon

Production Companies:

Hal Wallis Productions , Universal Pictures, Ltd.
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HISTORY

The film’s working title, as well as its British release title was Bequest to the Nation . The film is based on Terence Rattigan’s play of that title, which was originally produced on BBC television and according to modern sources, was titled Nelson: A Portrait in Miniature , airing on 14 Mar 1966. Revised for the stage as A Bequest to the Nation , Filmfacts reported that the play opened in London on 23 Sep 1970, starring Zoe Caldwell as “Lady Hamilton” and Ian Holm as “Lord Nelson.”
       The film ends with the written epilogue: “Horatio, First Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, was buried with full Naval Honours in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Nelson’s bequests were never carried out and as a result, Emma, Lady Hamilton, after two spells in debtors’ prison, left England forever. She died in Calais on 15th January 1815, in abject poverty.”
       Nelson, the greatest naval hero in British history, was known for his bold action in battle during the Napoleonic Wars and met Emma while posted in Naples. Married at the time to Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples, Emma was a celebrated artist’s model when she and Nelson fell in love. The couple pursued their romance openly, and when the humiliated Lady Nelson demanded her husband give up his mistress, Nelson moved out of Lady Nelson’s home, never to see her again. According to some historical sources, although most aristocratic men of the era kept mistresses, Nelson was the first well-known man to leave his wife for one and the affair scandalized Britain. Nelson and Emma’s daughter, Horatia, who was ... More Less

The film’s working title, as well as its British release title was Bequest to the Nation . The film is based on Terence Rattigan’s play of that title, which was originally produced on BBC television and according to modern sources, was titled Nelson: A Portrait in Miniature , airing on 14 Mar 1966. Revised for the stage as A Bequest to the Nation , Filmfacts reported that the play opened in London on 23 Sep 1970, starring Zoe Caldwell as “Lady Hamilton” and Ian Holm as “Lord Nelson.”
       The film ends with the written epilogue: “Horatio, First Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, was buried with full Naval Honours in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Nelson’s bequests were never carried out and as a result, Emma, Lady Hamilton, after two spells in debtors’ prison, left England forever. She died in Calais on 15th January 1815, in abject poverty.”
       Nelson, the greatest naval hero in British history, was known for his bold action in battle during the Napoleonic Wars and met Emma while posted in Naples. Married at the time to Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples, Emma was a celebrated artist’s model when she and Nelson fell in love. The couple pursued their romance openly, and when the humiliated Lady Nelson demanded her husband give up his mistress, Nelson moved out of Lady Nelson’s home, never to see her again. According to some historical sources, although most aristocratic men of the era kept mistresses, Nelson was the first well-known man to leave his wife for one and the affair scandalized Britain. Nelson and Emma’s daughter, Horatia, who was briefly mentioned in the film, was born in 1801 and was included with Emma in Nelson’s bequest to England. After her time in debtor’s prison, Emma fled to Calais and after her death, Horatia returned to England.
       A 27 Jul 1972 HR news item reported that the original start date of the picture had been changed from 7 Aug to 14 Aug 1972 in order to accommodate the schedules of both Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch, whose work on other films had delayed their availability. As noted in Filmfacts , the picture was filmed entirely in England, with location scenes at Bath, Somerset, Windsor, Berkshire, Surrey, Dartmouth and Devon and that the interiors were filmed at Shepperton Studios.
       Alexander Korda’s 1941 film, That Hamilton Woman (see below) was the first movie to tell the story of Nelson and Hamilton. An Aug 1973 Movie Classics article compared it with The Nelson Affair , noting that Korda’s picture started with Hamilton’s early life and was told from her point of view, whereas Rattigan’s script began with Nelson’s return to Emma shortly before his death and, although sympathetic, portrayed her as a vulgarian.
       As noted in a 2 May 1972 HR news item, the film marked the feature directing debut of James Cellan Jones, who gained prominence as a television director in England, where he directed, among other things, the highly successful BBC series The Forsyte Saga (1967). Modern sources list uncredited performances by David de Keyser as the French commander, Nicholas Lyndhurst as a cabin boy, Philip Madoc as a French captain and Ken Parry as Victory ’s cook.
       The Nelson Affair was the last of several films made in England by Hal B. Wallis that centered on historical characters, including the Anne of the Thousand Days in 1968 and Mary, Queen of Scots in 1971 (see above). A 12 Mar 1973 DV news item reported that a charity premiere of the film was held in London on 25 Apr 1973 as a benefit for King George’s Fund for Sailors. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 Apr 1973
p. 4578.
Daily Variety
3 Feb 1972.
---
Daily Variety
12 Mar 1973.
---
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1973
p. 2, 11.
Daily Variety
11 Apr 1973.
---
Filmfacts
1973
pp. 149-53.
Films and Filming
Jun 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 May 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Aug 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1972
pp. 12-13.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
5 Apr 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Nov 1972
Calendar, p. 1, 79.
Los Angeles Times
4 Apr 1973.
---
Motion Picture Herald
31 Mar 1973.
---
Movie Classics
Aug 1973.
---
New York
26 Mar 1973.
---
New York Times
19 Apr 1973
p. 52.
New York Times
30 Dec 1973
Section II, p. 1.
New Yorker
21 Apr 1973.
---
Saturday Review
May 1973
p. 95.
The Times (London)
27 Apr 1973.
---
Time
9 Apr 1973.
---
Variety
16 Aug 1972.
---
Variety
28 Mar 1973
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Prop man
Portrait painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Dubbing mixer
MAKEUP
Chief makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Prod supv
Loc mgr
Casting supv
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play A Bequest to the Nation by Terence Rattigan (London, 23 Sep 1970).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Bequest to the Nation
Release Date:
April 1973
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 4 April 1973
Production Date:
14 August--mid October 1972 in Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
4 April 1973
Copyright Number:
LP46087
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
115 or 117-118
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After two years at sea, famed naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson returns to England and is met by his good friend Lord Minto. Although Nelson is anxious to see his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, Minto tells him that they must first attend a meeting with the admiralty. The admiralty’s Lord Barham thanks Nelson for protecting England and praises his victories against Admiral Villeneuve of France, after which Nelson requests time to rest from battle, adding that he promised “a certain lady” he would now remain at home. Barham is embarrassed to learn that Nelson is referring to Lady Hamilton and not his estranged wife, Lady Frances Nelson, but promises to call Nelson into service only if necessary. Lady Nelson is shunned by Lord Nelson’s family and when she enters the Pump Room in Bath, she is overtly snubbed by his sister, Catherine. As Catherine’s husband, George Matcham, Sr., relays a newspaper story about his and Catherine’s upcoming trip to Nelson’s home, Merton, Catherine scolds their teenage son George for smiling at Lady Nelson, admonishing him always to ignore her. Catherine is evasive when George asks her to explain Nelson’s relationship with Lady Hamilton. When George’s parents leave for Merton, Lady Nelson’s servant Emily takes George to see her mistress, despite his protests. Lady Nelson speaks lovingly about her husband and requests that George write to her after returning from Merton, imparting everything he can recall about his uncle, especially his health. When Lady Nelson reveals that her last Christmas letter to Nelson was sent back, marked “opened by mistake by Lord Nelson, but not read,” George refuses to believe ... +


After two years at sea, famed naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson returns to England and is met by his good friend Lord Minto. Although Nelson is anxious to see his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, Minto tells him that they must first attend a meeting with the admiralty. The admiralty’s Lord Barham thanks Nelson for protecting England and praises his victories against Admiral Villeneuve of France, after which Nelson requests time to rest from battle, adding that he promised “a certain lady” he would now remain at home. Barham is embarrassed to learn that Nelson is referring to Lady Hamilton and not his estranged wife, Lady Frances Nelson, but promises to call Nelson into service only if necessary. Lady Nelson is shunned by Lord Nelson’s family and when she enters the Pump Room in Bath, she is overtly snubbed by his sister, Catherine. As Catherine’s husband, George Matcham, Sr., relays a newspaper story about his and Catherine’s upcoming trip to Nelson’s home, Merton, Catherine scolds their teenage son George for smiling at Lady Nelson, admonishing him always to ignore her. Catherine is evasive when George asks her to explain Nelson’s relationship with Lady Hamilton. When George’s parents leave for Merton, Lady Nelson’s servant Emily takes George to see her mistress, despite his protests. Lady Nelson speaks lovingly about her husband and requests that George write to her after returning from Merton, imparting everything he can recall about his uncle, especially his health. When Lady Nelson reveals that her last Christmas letter to Nelson was sent back, marked “opened by mistake by Lord Nelson, but not read,” George refuses to believe his uncle would commit such a dishonorable act, so Lady Nelson shows him the envelope. Desperate to excuse his uncle’s behavior, George decides that Lady Hamilton must have read the letter, found it insulting and advised Nelson to return it, so George reads it and is disappointed to find nothing offensive. Later, George goes to Lady Hamilton’s home on his way to Merton and is introduced to her as she lies in bed with a hangover. Lady Hamilton drinks, belches and curses as she welcomes the flustered George, then, when she bounds immodestly out of bed, demanding to be called “Aunt Emma” and kissing him on the mouth, he flees downstairs. At the admiralty, Nelson and other officers discuss their strategy against the newly combined French and Spanish forces, but when informed that he is to relieve Admiral Collingwood as commander, Nelson refuses the honor. When Barham says that his pledge to refrain from calling on Nelson was made before the present situation was known, Nelson retorts that he will honor his promise to his lady and angrily leaves. Soon after, Minto arrives at Emma’s home where she complains to him about the lack of respect Nelson receives from the court because of their affair, adding that she is aware of the conspiracy to send “her Nelson” to Cadiz to separate him from “that Hamilton bitch.” Minto agrees that Lady Hamilton has enemies, but insists he is not one of them. On his way out, Minto advises the sulky George to overcome his disapproval of Lady Hamilton and purge his memory of the visit to Frances for everyone’s good. Emma joins the crowd in front of her home in cheering when Nelson arrives, and after he enters and kisses her passionately, Nelson warmly greets George. Moments later, Nelson’s loyal officer, Captain Hardy, arrives and after a brief welcome, Nelson rushes off to Emma, prompting Hardy to throw a drink at her portrait, dismissing her as a whore. The household soon leaves for Merton, where, after meeting their guests, Nelson and Emma stroll the grounds, declaring “paradise Merton” their home for eternity. That evening, when Emma arrives for dinner drunk, Hardy’s puritanical reaction launches her into a tirade against him, but Nelson refuses her command to have him thrown out of their house. Emma persists in being antagonistic throughout the evening, accusing Hardy of trying to persuade Nelson to break his vow to her and return to battle, refusing to toast the king and denouncing Lady Nelson. When Emma uses Lady Nelson’s letter, so dreadful that Nelson sent it back, as evidence of her vindictive behavior, George is unable to contain himself and confesses to reading it at his aunt’s home, prompting Emma to call him a traitor to the family. George explains that he did so because he could not believe an honorable man would be so cruel to his wife and implores Nelson to say it was a different letter he returned. Nelson responds by ordering George be locked in his room and then walking alone out into a storm. Now contrite, Emma confides in Minto that she drinks out of fear of losing Nelson, whom she loves more than life. Minto follows Nelson, and as they walk, Nelson notes that the world must be on the side of his loving wife, rather than her unfaithful husband who has bribed family and friends to desert her. Nelson acknowledges his embarrassment over Emma’s vulgar behavior, conceding that his obsessive love for her is unsuitable for a national hero. Returning home, Nelson finds George’s father waiting for him. Unable to obey Emma’s command to whip his son, Matcham hands his riding crop and the key to George’s room to Nelson. When Nelson enters the room, George learns that his uncle not only read, but memorized his aunt’s letter, which offered forgiveness and asked for reconciliation. Nelson attempts to explain that it is his wife’s undying love for him despite his betrayal that has made him hate her, and then pretends to whip George, but hits a pillow instead. Leaving the room, Nelson is met by Emma, who begs his forgiveness, and when she confesses how she feared losing him, Nelson pledges his love to her until death. Realizing that Nelson truly wants to fight at Cadiz, Emma gives him permission to go, if he will promise to be prudent and Nelson vows to do all in his power to return to her. Back at sea, as all hands prepare for combat, Nelson prays for a glorious victory for England after which Collingwood and Hardy ask him to reconsider the plan for his ship Victory to be first into battle, positioning it alone to face four enemy ships. When Nelson refuses to change his strategy, Hardy offers him a plain coat to wear instead of his recognizable uniform. Nelson then produces a codicil to his will requesting that Britain provide for Emma upon his death and both men sign it. When the battle begins, Hardy is disappointed to see Nelson on deck in his full uniform. Soon spotted by a French sailor, Nelson is shot and taken below with the other injured men. Knowing that he is mortally wounded, Nelson calls for Hardy, who announces that the enemy have surrendered, Villeneuve is captured and that the British have won the most complete sea victory in history. Nelson responds by crediting Emma with his return to duty and then dies as Hardy weeps. Upon his return, Hardy personally takes the news of Nelson’s death to Emma, conveying that Nelson’s last thoughts were of her. Sometime later, when the grieving Lady Nelson arrives, attempting to comfort the now destitute Emma by announcing the provisions of Nelson’s will, Emma laughs bitterly at his naïve belief that the state would support “Nelson’s whore.” Emma predicts that she will go to debtor’s prison and, wondering which of the two of them will be remembered in history, concludes that she will be merely a comic figure. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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