Divine Lady, The (1929)
This acclaimed silent features great naval battle sequences, especially for the time, and won Frank Lloyd (Cavalcade (1933)) his first of two Best Director Academy Awards. The film’s Cinematography and Corinne Griffith’s performance also received nominations (her only). There are four songs (sung by Griffith, presumably) in the film which we hear, making this a silent hybrid. Joan Bennett and Grant Withers are evidently uncredited extras in this film, though I failed to spot them;-)
Charles Greville (Ian Keith) hopes to curry favor with his womanizing uncle, and benefactor, Sir William Hamilton (H. B. Warner, Lost Horizon (1937)). He gets an opportunity when a vulgar girl he dubs a "hussy", Emma (Griffith), arrives with her mother (Marie Dressler, in a brief and comic role) to be servant and cook, respectively, for his household. Initially physically attracted to her, he takes her with him to a public function only to be embarrassed by her actions (she leads a group of commoners in song). When he finds his uncle (after hearing her sing) is attracted to Emma, he tricks her into going to live with Hamilton in Naples (Italy) to receive an education, promising he’ll come to be with her in October (it is springtime). Infatuated with her, Hamilton does educate her in the ways of being a lady, providing her everything she needs including a wardrobe. She also meets a British naval officer acquaintance of Hamilton's, Horatio Nelson (Victor Varconi), who had initially refused to meet her until he too hears her sing.
When October arrives, she receives a letter from Greville saying that she should stay with Hamilton and implying that he himself might wed another. Crushed, she accepts Hamilton’s offer of marriage after she’s told him she could never love him. England is at war with France and Naples, though it’s aristocracy favors England, is fearful of France. The King (Michael Vavitch) is influenced by his confidant, and French sympathizer George Romney (though, in the film, he is said to be citizen R, William Conklin), to maintain neutrality. That is, until a British ship commanded by Nelson arrives off shore wanting to dock to gain treatment for his men who are suffering from starvation and scurvy. Emma, now Lady Hamilton, is sympathetic to their cause and influences the Queen (Dorothy Cummings), and sister to Marie Antoinette (and we all know what happened to her), to sign an order to provide the British ship(s) the needed supplies.
When Lady Hamilton delivers this proclamation to Nelson’s ship, she falls for the Captain, and the feeling is mutual. After Nelson and his rejuvenated men are victorious, they begin a torrid affair which delays the Captain from a triumphant return to England. When he’s summoned home by his wife (Helen Jerome Eddy), and after she sings him one more song, he departs. Hamilton and "Emma" are then invited to the celebration in London, but Lady Hamilton is shunned, her name crossed off the guest list. When Nelson hears of this, he is outraged that the woman who saved his men from perishing should be excluded.
*** SPOILERS ***
They settle for the quiet life together, away from society and all others. However, when called by (Capt. Hardy - Montagu Love) country to defend it again against Napoleon, he returns to duty where he’s fatally wounded.