The Divine Lady (1929)




Director:     Frank Lloyd. 

Starring:     Corinne Griffith (Lady Emma Hart Hamilton ), Victor Varconi (Horatio Nelson), H.B. Warner (Sir William Hamilton), Ian Keith (Honorable Charles Greville), Marie Dressler (Mrs. Hart), Montagu Love (Capt. Hardy), William Conklin (George Romney), Dorothy Cumming (Queen Maria Carolina of Naples), Michael Vavitch (King Ferdinand of Naples), Evelyn Hall (Duchess of Devonshire), Helen Jerome Eddy (Lady Fanny Nelson).

Nelson, Lady Nelson and Emma Hart in a love triangle



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"This is the . . . story of the love and destiny of England's greatest beauty, and England's greatest sailor." 

1782.  A peaceful English village.  A fellow named Greville examines a painting and says to the painter:  "I'm most anxious my uncle will be pleased with this, Mr. Romney."  A stage coach arrives from London.  A huge woman has trouble getting out of the coach.  When she finally pushes through, she falls to the sidewalk.  Following the woman is a young, attractive lady with a great smile.  The coachman winks at her and she winks right back at him. A sailor plants a kiss on her cheek and she slaps his face.   

The large lady introduces herself to Greville as Mrs. Hart, the new cook, and her daughter Emma.  Greville refers to her daughter as a "brazen hussy".  He closes the door.  Mrs. Hart tells Emma that she has lost them a good cooking job. 

Greville is telling Mr. Romney that he wouldn't let that girl set foot in his house, when he sees Emma's leg in the process of entering the house through a window.  He likes the legs he sees.  Emma finishes coming inside and runs to kneel at the feet of Greville, saying:  "Oh, sir, I know I'm vulgar, but I could learn from an elegant gentleman like you  --  so aristocratic  --  so kind  --  so handsome."  Greville relents, which makes Emma ecstatic.  She rushes outside to tell her mother.  Mr. Romney tells Greville:  "Greville, you don't know it, but you've hired a goddess.  I must painter her."  Now Emma and her mother come inside. 

A letter is addressed so:  "To His Excellency, Sir William Hamilton, His Britannic Majesty's Ambassador,To the Court of Naples".  William Hamilton is the uncle of Greville and Greville asks him to honor him with a visit.  Greville brags about Emma saying that she is " . . . fast developing into a rare jewel".

Outside Emma is giving some local children some chips.  She has to excuse herself because she is being taken to Vauxhall.   The mother of the children comes out and rudely takes the children away from her.  The woman's complaint is that Emma ". . . ought to be married and ain't."  Emma talks back to the woman and she is just about ready to climb over the small wall between them when Greville comes out and catches her arguing with the neighbor.  Emma quickly makes up with the neighbor, even shaking her hand.  The other woman is dumb-founded by this. 

In the coach with Greville, Emma makes him smile.  And then he kisses her. 

Vauxhall is an amusement park and the place is packed with people.  Emma and Greville take a ferrris wheel ride.  Later they have supper.  Greville excuses himself from the table telling Emma he has to leave for a moment.  He goes over and talks with his uncle.  A woman tells Greville to be careful with Sir William.  If he marries, Greville will no longer be his heir. 

The sailor who got his face slapped by Emma is at Vauxhall.  Emma starts singing along with the band and people stop to listen to her voice. 

The advising woman tells Greville he should hurry and find his uncle a sweet girl, but one who would be "socially impossible as a wife".  When the band finishes the song, Emma gets a warm applause from the audience. Emma then has the whole audience sing along with her on the next song.  Greville rushes over to the large booth where he and Emma were dining and closes the curtains on the booth.  This makes some sailors in the audience really mad.  The slapped sailor tries to calm the three other sailors, but they rush up and pull the curtains back.  By that time, however, Greville and Emma are already gone. 

Greville puts Emma into his coach and givers orders for the driver to take her home.  Emma asks Greville isn't he coming with her, but Greville just says:  "Your vulgar display is unforgivable  --  I'll return later with my uncle."  As the coach leaves, Emma cries.

At home, Greville has Emma sing a more respectable song to his uncle, who seems entranced by the young lady.  When she finishes Sir William tells her that she is very beautiful.  He then walks her out of the room.  When alone with Greville, he tells his nephew that Emma will be divine with a little training.  He adds:  "I wish I had her in Naples."  Greville tells uncle that Emma might go with him, as long as she thinks that Greville would join her later. 

After uncle has gone, Greville goes into see Emma.  She asks him if he has forgiven her now?  They kiss passionately and embrace each other.  He then tells Emma that she will be going to Naples to study with the finest teachers there.  Emma is very happy and asks when does she start?  But then she thinks that Greville hasn't forgiven her and that he is sending her away.  Greville just tells her that Sir William is needed back at his post in Naples and Emma and her mother will start immediately on her training once in Naples.  He says he will come to Naples at the latest in October.  He even promises her to come. 

Emma writes a letter to Greville, date April 30, 1786.  She says she is lonely and wants to see Greville.  She mentions that for his sake she is studying hard her lessons in Italian, dancing and music.  October arrives and Emma sees an English packet ship.  She is so excited to see Greville.  She practices her greeting of the man.  A servant enters with a note.  Emma reads that Greville is not coming on account of his "pressing debts".  He says this is goodbye for he is contemplating marriage.  And then he advises Emma to place herself "under the protection of Sir William".  Emma is crushed. 

Sir William comes in and Emma lets him read the note.  He tries to console Emma but she fells crushed and walks around the room listlessly.  Emma then becomes angry and yells at Sir William, saying:  "This is the end of your fine plot."  Emma goes on to say that she and her mother will work their way back to England.  She runs up the stairs to her bedroom.  Sir William comes up to tell her that he simply can't let her go because she has brought joy and beauty into his life.  He then asks Emma to marry him.  She tells him that she could never really love him.  He replies:  "I do not ask for love."

Emma writes a letter to Greville.   In it she says that she will marry Sir William.  Grevillle reads the letter and looks a bit distressed by it. And now Greville is Emma's nephew.   

Emma's husband tells her that he is exhausted by these Frenchmen always preaching about their recent revolution.  As he walks up the stairs to his bedroom to rest, he asks Emma to greet a young naval officer for him.  Emma is more than happy to do so.  A servant tells Emma that Captain Nelson says that he can only meet with the Ambassador because his business is very urgent.  She tells the servant that her husband has to rest and to tell Nelson that it's either wait or see her. 

Emma plays the harp and sings a song.  Nelson goes in to look at the singer.  She stops playing and singing and goes over to greet the captain.  Emma refers to him as the impatient captain who would not see her.  Nelson says they were destined to meet. 

1795-1797.  These were revolutionary times in France.  And in Naples, the court of Queen Maria Caroline was friend to England but fearful of French power.   Sir William comes to the queen to tell her that England has declared war on France.  Then William has some terrible new for the queen.  The queen sends everyone out except for Emma.  Sir William tells the queen that her sister Queen Marie Antoinette was executed by way of the guillotine.  Sir William leaves, while Emma consoles the queen. 

During the war with Napoleon's France, Captain Nelson becomes the well-known Admiral Nelson. He survives many battle, but is now battle-scarred and half blinded.  On board ship, there is a shortage of water.  The supply will only last three weeks at quarter rations.  And the biscuits are filled with worms.  Nelson puts in at Naples for supplies even though the port of Naples is closed to England.  Emma decides to go with her husband to find out what's the nature of the crisis aboard Nelson's ship the Vanguard.    When Emma sees Nelson again she is shocked at his appearance now.  He has even lost his right arm.  Nelson notices her reaction and tells her:  "There is not much left of me.  I'm as battered and scarred as my ship."  Emma replies that both he and the ship are "the most noble sights" her eyes have had the honor to look upon. 

One of the young sailors collapses on deck and Emma runs over to him.  Nelson tells her that it's scurvy and that his men are dying like flies.  He came to Naples to persuade King Ferdinand to let him get some provisions and water.  Sir William tells Nelson that the King will never allow this.  If he did, the French would be at the throat of Naples.  Emma says that they must persuade the king to help. Sir William and Nelson speak with King Ferdinand.  French citizen Fontaine shakes his head no to the king and King Ferdinand has to tell Sir William that they cannot allow their neutrality to be violated. 

Nelson tells Emma that they did not succeed with the king. And now Nelson must set sail for Gibraltar.  Without provisions and water Napoleon will sweep the water of the Mediterranean Sea.  Nelson and Sir William leave.  Emma waits for the queen to come by.  When she does Emma tells her that if the French are victorious on the Mediterranean Sea, then France will be victorious over Naples.  And what mercy will the French show the queen of Naples, a sister of Marie Antoinette?  This frightens the queen and she feels around her neck.  The queen says that she would sign the order for provisions and water for Nelson, but she can't.  Emma tells the queen that as a member of the Cabinet she can sign the order. 

Nelson is about to sail away on the flood tide.  The anchor is pulled up and the mainsails are pulled up.  Emma arrives by boat and shows the order from the queen to provision and water Nelson's ships.  Moreover, Nelson has been given permission to dock at any port on the island of Sicily.    Nelson is very pleased and tells Emma:  "You have saved England, and my honor, Lady Hamilton."  He kisses her hand and kneels before her.  She notices that Nelson seems to love her, but she says love is not for them.  He belongs to England and his wife and she belongs to Sir William. 

A messenger notifies Lord Nelson that they are getting underway and his visitor must leave.  Lady Hamilton leaves. 

For weeks Nelson searches for the French fleet.  A lookout spots the French fleet.  Soon the cannon start roaring away.  Nelson tells his ships to get in close and then he gives the order:  "Stand by to ram and board."  The English start jumping aboard a French ship. 

In Naples some rabble rousers say the queen has left them to the vengeance of the French!  Where is this Nelson to protect them?  The French ambassador to Naples demands that the king expel Lady Hamilton, the woman who tricked the king, and sign a treaty of alliance with France.  The queen leaves the room.  She goes over to Emma and says the king is about to sign an alliance with France. 

Looking out the window, the King of Naples sees that the people in the crowd below are fighting with each other.  The French emissaries say that it will be civil war in Naples, unlefs the king declares himself for France.  In the knick of time, the English fleet arrives.  Sir William speaks with the king saying that Nelson has annihilated the French fleet and Napoleon is bottled up in Egypt.  Emma is so relieved to hear the good news.  Admiral Nelson is now announced.  Emma runs over to him.  He has been wounded again this time in the head.   

The summer after the battle is one of peace and tranquility.  Nelson and Emma sit outside enjoying the summer.  A letter arrives for Lord Nelson.  It is from his wife Fanny.  She says that all England wants to know what is delaying Nelson's return to England?  Everyone is waiting for him to receive his hero's welcome.  She suggests that he return at once or the king and queen will have to send for him.   Emma sees that Lord Nelson is downcast.  She rushes over to him.  They are both heart-broken over the news that Nelson must return to England.  Emma tells everyone the news.  They all leave the party. 

Nelson sails at dawn tomorrow.  He asks Emma to sing one last song for him.  She agrees.  She sings the sad song Danny Boy.  The song makes Emma even sadder and she stops singing and throws herself on an open couch.  Nelson comes over to her to say he can't leaves Naples without her.  He kisses Emma.

The newspapers says that London is all decked-out in finery in anticipation of the arrival of Admiral Nelson, hero of  the Battle of the Nile.  The Admiral rides in a carriage with Emma sitting by his side.  The people wave and scream for their hero.  They are happy, but Sir William is also with them and he does not look happy. 

The Duchess of Devonshire throws a gala event for Lord Nelson.  Their Majesties will attend the event. 

Charles Greville comes to see his uncle.  Sir William tells his nephew that Emma is ecstatic about the reception for Lord Nelson.  Greville says there are some nasty rumors going around about Emma and Nelson.  Sir William makes light of the whole thing.  So Greville shows him a list of the guests to be at the gala event.  There is a line for Sir William Hamilton and Lady Hamilton, but Emma's name is crossed out on the list.  Emma comes into the room, but doesn't quite no what to say.  She says hello to Greville who then leaves.  Her husband now shows her the list of guests with her named crossed out. 

Lord Nelson and his wife pass below her window in a carriage while the crowd screams for them.  The couple is introduced at the gala event.  Then Sir William Hamilton and Greville are announced.  Nelson is puzzled why Lady Hamilton isn't with her husband.  He goes over to Sir William and asks him what has happened?  The husband says the queen refuses to acknowledge Lady Hamilton.  Nelson starts to walk out of the party.  His wife stops him and he tells her:  "I will not be a party to this insult to the woman who made England's victory possible."  His wife tells him that if he leaves, their marriage is ended.  Just then the King and Queen of England arrive at the event. 

Nelson goes to Emma.  They embrace each other.  Nelson is willing to give up everything for their love, but Emma tells him:  "I cannot let you sacrifice yourself for me!"  He tells her that the only thing he wants from England is her, but Emma replies:  "I am the one thing England will never let you have." 

Emma and Nelson hide away in an English village.  One day Captain Hardy of Nelson's staff comes in with a dispatch.  Emma is very glad to see him, but the man brings bad news.  Napoleon has built a great French fleet and has massed his armies at Boulogne.  He says he will cross the English Channel and crush England.  Emma tells Captain Hardy to tell England that they can't have her Nelson for he is hers.  Captain Hardy pleads with Emma to be understanding.  All of England needs Admiral Nelson.  Captain Hardy says:  "Your love has disgraced him.  Do you want to cover him with shame and have him grow to hate you?"  So Emma drops her objections.  Hardy goes to tell Nelson. 

Nelson is raring to stop Napoleon from dominating the English Channel.  Emma is very upset about her Nelson leaving.  She takes down his sword over the fireplace mantel and kisses it.  Nelson and Hardy come into the room just as she is kissing the sword.  Emma helps Nelson put on his cape and hat.  On the steps up to the house they kiss and embrace each other and then Emma lets him go.   

Trafalgar!  Nelson is on the ship Victory.  A message is raised for the entire fleet:  "England expects that every man will do his duty."  The crews of the fleet are inspired by the message, but now the time has come for the battle with the French. 

At home Emma receives a letter from Nelson dated October 7, 1805.  He says if he should die in battle, ". . . know that I will love you even more in death than in life."

The naval battle rages.  A French marine up in the riggings shoots Nelson on the deck of the Victory.  At home Emma seems to sense that something terrible has happened to Nelson.  Nelson is taken below deck to the hospital.  He learns that the battle is a complete victory for England.  He asks Captain Hardy to kiss him and the captain kisses him on his forehead.  He dies. 


Good movie and this in spite of the fact that it is a silent film.  Both the pretty Corinne Griffith (as Lady Emma Hart Hamilton ) and the handsome Victor Varconi (as Horatio Nelson) are very good in their roles.  It is very similar to other films made on the subject and does not come off bad in comparison. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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