Cinemagic

Gra­ham Gough

Evergreen - - Contents - GRA­HAM GOUGH

There is no of­fi­cial record of Nel­son ever vis­it­ing Dart­mouth but in 1971 he stepped ashore at Ba­yards Cove in the sea­far­ing Devon town, when Uni­ver­sal Films ar­rived to make Be­quest to the Na­tion, or The Nel­son Af­fair as it was known in Amer­ica.

A lav­ish, big­bud­get pro­duc­tion it was cen­tred around Nel­son’s af­fair with Lady Emma Hamil­ton, with Peter Finch in the star­ring role and Glenda Jack­son as his mis­tress. Di­rected by James Cel­lan Jones it was pro­duced by Hal B. Wal­lis.

I was for­tu­nate enough to join the cast and crew on the same day the le­gendary Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer vis­ited the set with his sec­ond wife, ac­tress Martha Hyer. Other fa­mous films pro­duced by Wal­lis in­cluded The Ad­ven­tures of Robin Hood ( 1938) with Er­rol Flynn, The Mal­tese Fal­con ( 1941) and Casablanca ( 1942), both with Humphrey Bog­art, and Yan­kee Doo­dle Dandy ( 1942) with James Cag­ney. He also pro­duced the 1957 cow­boy clas­sic Gunfight at the OK Cor­ral star­ring Burt Lan­caster as Mar­shall Wyatt Earp and Kirk Dou­glas as Doc Hol­l­i­day. Later in life he guided Elvis Pres­ley’s film ca­reer. Wal­lis also made some big bud­get his­tor­i­cal films in Bri­tain in­clud­ing Becket ( 1964) with Richard Bur­ton and Peter O’Toole, Anne of a Thou­sand Days ( 1969) also with Bur­ton who played Henry VIII,

and Mary, Queen of Scots ( 1971) with Vanessa Red­grave and Glenda Jack­son.

Be­quest to the Na­tion was re­leased in 1973 and, de­spite some in­evitable mixed re­views from the crit­ics, it was a box of­fice suc­cess, al­though many of the bat­tle scenes were filmed in­side the stu­dio.

Adapted by Ter­ence Rat­ti­gan from his play based on Nel­son’s fi­nal days in Eng­land, it tells the story of how the great man wres­tled with his feel­ings and sense of duty as he planned the de­struc­tion of the French and Span­ish fleets at Trafal­gar. He ini­tially in­tended that some­one else should take com­mand but Lady Hamil­ton gave him up so he could ful­fil his duty to his coun­try. The re­sult was a spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory which is still cel­e­brated to­day.

Peter Finch gave a fine per­for­mance as Nel­son and re­called some time later that he ac­tu­ally thought he had touched the enig­matic ad­mi­ral’s real char­ac­ter.

Dur­ing the lo­ca­tion shoot at Dart­mouth he was charm­ing on set and also took time to chat with mem­bers of the pub­lic as well as jok­ing with fel­low ac­tor An­thony Quayle, who played Lord Minto. They had al­ready ap­peared to­gether in The Bat­tle of the River Plate ( 1956) but on op­po­site sides as Finch played the cap­tain of the Ger­man bat­tle­ship Graf Spee which, after a stand- off with Bri­tish ships ashore, was scut­tled in the es­tu­ary out­side Mon­te­v­ideo in Uruguay watched by Com­modore Har­wood played by Quayle.

In his early days Lau­rence Olivier was a men­tor to Finch who, for the Rank Or­gan­i­sa­tion, in ad­di­tion to The Bat­tle of the River Plate, also starred in A Town Like Alice, again in 1956. Dur­ing his long ca­reer Finch made more than 60 fea­ture films and was posthu­mously awarded Best Ac­tor Os­car for his roll in Net­work ( 1976) in which he played a tele­vi­sion an­chor­man called Howard Beale.

After a well- pub­li­cised life as a hell raiser, he suf­fered a fa­tal heart at­tack in the lobby of the Bev­erly Hills Hotel and died on 14th Jan­uary 1977 aged just 60. De­spite three wives and var­i­ous well- known li­aisons re­sult­ing in sev­eral chil­dren, he is still re­garded by many as one of the finest ac­tors of his gen­er­a­tion.

JOHN HUS­BAND

Lord Nel­son never graced its por­tals be­cause the Bri­tan­nia Royal Naval Col­lege’s cur­rent build­ings only opened in 1905. How­ever, Se­nior Ser­vice Of­fi­cer train­ing in the town goes back to the mid- 19th cen­tury.

Peter Finch as Nel­son, be­ing trans­ported to his ship.

An­thony Quayle as Lord Minto ( left), chats to Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer, Hal B. Wal­lis.

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