“The Nelson Affair” (1973)
Running Time: 118 minutes
Written by: Terence Rattigan
Directed by: James Cellan Jones
Featuring: Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Michael Jayston and Anthony Quayle
Adm. Lord Horatio Nelson: “Captain!”
Capt. Blackwood: “Yes, my lord?”
Adm. Lord Horatio Nelson: “Five hours I’ve watched you trying to pass me in your damned Temeraire. When we come to battle, I’ll thank you to keep to your proper station.”
Capt. Blackwood: “Yes, my lord, and what is that?”
Adm. Lord Horatio Nelson: “Behind me!”
Recently released on Blu-ray within the Imprint label is the drama “The Nelson Affair” (1973) featuring the great Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch in the lead roles as Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson respectively who after almost fifty years are still fascinating too see even if the material is a little stiff and without a lot of action. “The Nelson Affair” is the very definition of a costume drama and something the English had been doing for decades within film up to this point.
“The Nelson Affair” is the film of Terence Rattigan’s play about their long-time romance as his death at the Battle of Trafalgar brings together the mistress and wife, Lady Frances Nelson (Margaret Leighton), and reconciles their differences. Jackson starts at the top and gets gradually more raucous, while Finch underplays riskily but more appealingly. What is missing or lacking is a sense of dignity, a parade of pageantry, a command of history, maybe a bit of pomp and circumstance; some real quality that is.
This film was based on a play as mentioned by Terence Rattigan it was made at a time when the playwright could adapt their own work which brings with it some very real strengths was well as some negatives. The positives are quite obvious in that the writer knows the material extremely well and he or she has already done the hard work in carrying out the research and honing the material down to within an inch of its life. However, these can also be weaknesses and the first negative is that the writer finds it difficult to see outside their own frame, that is the play that he has seen many times onstage. That leads into the rigidity of a play versus a film, one is something that is rehearsed to death whereas sometimes the magic in movies can be found outside the frame as well as in the community of a group of people making the movie.
Directed by James Cellan Jones who was as prolific as any director that has ever worked, he switched between television and the big screen with what seems like a specialty in drama as well as very serious works. Interestingly like the writer he seems to be interested in transplanting the play straight to the big screen with little in the way of style which a director needs. In fact much of his work seems to be deferential to the material through the writer which may explain his work on television which is a writers medium. Nevertheless he did work with some talented actors as well as writers. To look at the work he could have done one need only compare him to the producer and director team of Ivory and Merchant who were able to tell English stories with some inventiveness while staying true to the material. This is something that Jones may have had success with, another collaborator who could offer some protection in terms of decision making.
“The Nelson Affair” is a very good film with some interesting performances that liven up the screen, it is lead by the great Glenda Jackson who made some challenging movies in this time and you can see why she is fearless. I do recommend this movie and it is fantastic that Imprint has chosen some very different movies to release alongside ore contemporary movies.
- 1080P High definition presentation
- Video Interview by critic Matthew Sweet
- Video Interview by critic and author Neil Sinyard
- Video Interview with Actor Michael Jayston
- Theatrical Trailer