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Nelson – A Study In Miniature (ITV Drama, Michael Bryant, Rachel Roberts)



Period drama Nelson – A Study In Miniature, broadcast under the Play of the Week banner, looking at Admiral Nelson’s relationship with Lady Hamilton and the events leading upto the Battle of Trafalgar.

The production was introduced by H. R. H. The Duke of Edinburgh.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle of Monday 14 March 1966 previewed the drama: Nelson — A Study in Miniature by Terence Rattigan, will be introduced by Prince Philip. This interpretation of Nelson, covering 24 days he spent in London and at his country home before his final voyage to the West Indies and engagement of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, is largely seen through the eyes of his nephew, who is curious why Nelson should treat Lady Nelson so badly. Rattigan’s play paints a different picture of Lady Hamilton, played by Rachel Roberts, than the usual romantic portrait.

Kenneth Eastaugh in the Daily Mirror (Mon 14 Mar 1966) also previewed the drama with a focus on Rattigan’s approach to the script: HOW ADMIRABLE WAS THE ADMIRAL? HOW do you take Nelson from his pedestal and show, without any hero worshipping, what made him tick? One of Britain’s leading playwrights, Terence Rattigan, after much travail, came up with tonight’s Play of the Week, Nelson, A Study in Miniature (ITV, 9.20), which will be introduced by the Duke of Edinburgh. Rattigan, who has written plays about Lawrence of Arabia and Alexander the Great, found that writing about England’s most famous sea hero was a playwright’s Battle of Trafalgar. He got bogged down in research. The real difficulty with Nelson,” he says, ” is not that others wrote so much about him, but that he wrote so much about himself.” a letter from Nelson’s wife to her husband got the play going. The letter was returned to Lady Nelson marked, in somebody else’s handwriting, ” opened by mistake by Lord Nelson, but not read.” The cruel action did not fit in with Rattigan’s warm concept of Nelson… and a way into the hero’s motives and problems had been found. Rattigan cuts a lot of the romantic hoo-ha away from Nelson’s mistress, Lady Hamilton. The play covers 25 days that Nelson spent in London and his country home at Merton before the Battle of Trafalgar in which he was killed. Proceeds of the play’s overseas sales are being given to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

“B.S.” reviewed the production in The Belfast Telegraph of Tuesday 15 March 1966: FOR THE second time within a week, England’s greatest naval hero has been brought down from his pedestal. But even the Republican extremists only demolished concrete and stone. Playwright Terence Rattigan tackled the pedestal of legend in his “Nelson a Portrait in Miniature” (ATV). The result must have disillusioned many a schoolboy whose history books made the little Admiral appear almost godlike—or adults who imagined his affair with Lady Hamilton as something noble and romantic. Rattigan’s Nelson (Michael Bryant) was a troubled, vain, sometimes weak and always puzzling figure. A man whose greatness was overshadowed by his obsessive love for a coarse, vulgar woman who drank to excess and humiliated him before his friends and fellow-officers. But Rattigan is not a debunking writer. He has a great sympathy for human frailty. His Nelson is an insecure, unhappy man, fearful of losing the love of an immoral ageing charmer whose behaviour. he admits, makes him “wince, shudder and retch.” Bryant’s performance was masterly, and my only complaint was that there Were long scenes when he Was not on the screen. When he was, he dominated the play.

There was also an expansive review by Kari Anderson in The Stage, Thursday 17 March 1966: TERENCE RATTIGAN’S view of Nelson’s relationships with his wife and Lady Hamilton is essentially a romantic one it is also tinged with sentimentality. The result of this view in his play Nelson – A Study in Miniature (ATV, March 14) is that the balance of sympathy is heavily loaded in favour of Lady Nelson, poor, long-suffering, ever-loving and rheumatic “Tom Tit”. At the same time, after depicting Lady Hamilton as a drunken, gluttonous, tantrum-throwing shrew, he allows her a touching about-face. I suspect that Mr. George Naish, Deputy Keeper of the National Maritime Museum, is nearer the truth of Emma when he says, “She was a woman of charm, trained to the life.” But the play is about Nelson, and a very good play it is. The best things in it are the Nelson seen with Lord Minto, young George Matcham and stout Captain Blackwood. Structurally, it is a model of historical play writing; packed with information about Nelson, his public and private life. The facts are always integral to the drama, never stuck in. And, like all of Mr. Rattigan’s plays, it’s an actors’ Elysium.

Cast: Rachel Roberts (Lady Hamilton), Celia Johnson (Lady Nelson), Michael Bryant (Nelson), Michael Hordern (Lord Minto), Felix Aylmer (Lord Barham), Fergus McClelland (George Matcham, Jr), Antony Carrick (Admiralty Secretary), John Humphry (Sir Evan Nepean), Gladys Bacon (Lady Nelson’s Maid), Reg Leaver [as Reg Lever] (Business Man), Oliver Johnston (Old Gentleman), Leonard Russell (Man), Monica Merlin (Old Lady), Anna Wing (Mother), Janet Hannington (Girl), Barry Wilsher (Young Man), Ann Heffernan (Mrs Matcham), Redmond Phillips (Mr Matcham), Jocelyn Birdsall (Lady Hamilton’s Maid), John Kidd (Doctor William Helson), Lily Harrold (Nelson Snr’s Wife), Jack Pitt (Young Horatio), Doris Littlewood (Susanna Bolton), Nigel Bernard (Thomas Bolton), Katherine Kessey (First Twin Daughter), Karen Kessey (Second Twin Daughter), Decklan Cuffe (Bolton’s Son-In-Law), Michael Beint (Captain Blackwood)

Writer: Terence Rattigan / Producer: Cecil Clarke / Director: Stuart Burge

UK / ITV – ATV / 1×85 minutes / Broadcast Monday 14 March 1966 black and white