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      That Hamilton Woman

      Magna/Magna . R4 . B&W . 128 mins . G . PAL


      That Hamilton Woman was Lady Emma Hamilton, a society courtesan who gained her coveted title by marrying Sir William Hamilton, Britain's Ambassador to Naples, and who then threw convention aside by becoming mistress to England's greatest sailor, Sir Horatio Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar.

      This DVD is a coup for local company Magna Pacific. I cannot see any trace on the Internet of it being given release in Britain, Europe or America - it seems unique to Region 4.

      Unfortunately, because it's an old film (1941) and because it's black-and-white and has no explosive 5.1 or DTS soundtrack, it will have a limited market. But it's a fine film and Magna has given it a very decent, if not outstanding, transfer.

      This was Winston Churchill's favourite movie of all during his time as Britain's wartime Prime Minister. You can see why - there's no equivocation here about Nelson's role in saving Britain from Napoleonic tyranny, and the parallels with Britain resisting Nazism are clear. But while there is a level of subdued, almost subliminal war-time propaganda, the film is memorable mostly for the acting - Laurence Olivier's sometimes over-hammy screen presence is nicely subdued here as he plays a character who really was larger than life. But the key to the film's lasting quality is the coquettish, downright sexy Vivien Leigh in probably the finest film of her career, ahead even of Gone With the Wind. She looks irresistible and is compellingly believable when showing Lady Hamilton at the height of her youth and beauty - but Vivien Leigh's ability shines most strongly when she portrays the pitiful, wretched woman England callously abandoned after Nelson's death, despite his plea to his country to 'look after Emma'.

      I may have seen this movie before, in lunchtime television screenings in the days before colour television. If I had, that memory had escaped the deepest and darkest recesses of my mind. I'm glad to have found it now - it is a minor masterpiece of its kind, and well worth the attention Magna has lavished on its transfer.


      This is of course a full-screen transfer. The transfer of this 1941 black-and-white movie is exemplary. Detail is fine, contrast and black levels are excellent, and the film sparkles in a way that almost convinces the viewer that this is colour - or, at least, that colour is totally unnecessary. Print quality is excellent for a film of this vintage.


      Magna's attention to video quality wasn't fully extended to audio. The single-channel Dolby track is clean and clear and free of background noise, but it is pitched at just about the lowest level I have experienced. While my system, with its Quad amplifier and very precise Neat Petite speakers, was able to bring it to a realistic level, I imagine there would be a lot of audio systems which wouldn't cope with sound levels this low.


      Scene selection? Now come on...


      This will stay part of my home collection, but then I have a weakness for great films of this vintage - it's so wonderful to own something older than myself! For more recent arrivals on Planet Earth I would suggest renting the title first, to see if you agree with Winston Churchill or not.

    • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1612
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        And I quote...
      "The key to this film's lasting quality is the coquettish, downright sexy Vivien Leigh in probably the finest film of her career, ahead even of Gone With the Wind."
      - Anthony Clarke
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