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Last week, I plotted an itinerary for a day trip out of London to the Chatham Historic Dockyard — more about what I learned from that exploration today. Sim is reading The Limehouse Golem and shared stills from the upcoming movie. Becky reviewed Espresso Tales, the sequel to Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street. Jean celebrated her completion of Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser — it took her over a year!

Master and Commander

Traveling the world on a warship during the Age of Sail

Last week, I mentioned two movies that I wanted to see to prepare for a visit to the Chatham Historic DockyardMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World and That Hamilton Woman.

We have a limited DVD collection, getting most of our disks from Netflix, but we own Master and Commander. Rick likes to use it to test our speakers. Cannon blasts demonstrate the capabilities of a subwoofer. So, we watched that one immediately.

I think I like Master and Commander more each time I see it — observing more deeply the relationships.

The lack of female characters is, at least, reasonable in a story about war at sea. I hate war stories without women, because there are always women in war zones on land. Ignoring them is male privilege that makes it easier to justify violently tearing through people’s homes and lands.

As a story to help me understand life on board a ship in the Age of Sail, Master and Commander is a film-making feat. Some scenes are rolling, wet, noisy, terrifying, messes of confusion. Just what it must have been like.

HMS Victory at Chatham Historic Dockyard

The model, displayed at Chatham Historic Dockyard, used as a set in That Hamilton Woman.
By Clem Rutter, Rochester Kent – Own work, CC BY 2.5, Link

I learned about That Hamilton Woman while exploring the website for the Chatham Historic Dockyard. Their newest exhibit, Command of the Ocean, has a gallery about HMS Victory — Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar. HMS Victory, “estimated the largest and finest ship ever built,” originated at Chatham Dockyard and received repairs there before and after Trafalgar. Part of the HMS Victory display is the larger than life model that was built as a set for That Hamilton Woman.

Rick is reading The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson by R.J.B. Knight, so we stopped the movie a lot to talk about what he’s learned so far. It’s a giant book. We may have to watch the film again after he’s finished when he’ll know more details.

That Hamilton Woman is a black and white movie from 1941, a propaganda film to get Americans more interested in World War II before Pearl Harbor. One speech by Nelson about Napoleon as a dictator jumps out to make the message very clear.

Vivien Leigh played Emma Hamilton and Laurence Olivier (her real-life husband) played Lord Nelson. I really liked Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman. I sometimes have a hard time seeing her as anyone other than Scarlett O’Hara, but she made Lady Hamilton come alive for me.

Have you seen Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World or That Hamilton Woman? What did you think? Do you have other films to recommend for understanding the Age of Sail?


Two Age of Sail Films #BriFri — 5 Comments

  1. My sister, who has read all the Master and Commander books, also likes the Hornblower series by C. S. Forester, which sound like similar types of book, although written in the 1930s. I vaguely remember seeing the film with Gregory Peck play the lead part many years ago, although there have been more modern adaptations.

  2. Michelle Ann’s comment reminded me that I also vaguely remembered seeing Gregory Peck with one of those admiral caps on! I looked it up and found a review written by Bosley Crowther in 1951 when Captain Horatio Hornblower starring Gregory Peck opened. These lines about the female presence stand out :

    “And sweet Lady Barbara Wellsley, the beauteous sister of the Duke of Wellington, is no more than a dash of femininity in Virginia Mayo’s prim portrayal of the role.

    But that’s all the beauteous lady is permitted to be in this film, which is given much more to straight swash-buckling than to dalliance of the delicate kind. Enough romance to hold the franchise is all Director Raoul Walsh has allowed. The rest of the time he has devoted to sea battles, escapades and duels.”
    Here’s the link to the review in the NYTimes 1951 if you’re interested—

  3. I adored the Patrick O’Brian books & happily, also love the movie. The friendship is at the heart of the story, and I was pleased how well they captured that in the movie. The horrir of war on board ship was also really brought home on the movie. I wish they had turned more of the books into movies.

  4. Pingback: Stage Fright on a Summer Night #BookReview #BriFri – Joy's Book Blog

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