Scott Ellington's Blog

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That Minbari Woman

Maybe it’s just a mirage of parallels, but I do see subtle similarities in the shape and scope and a couple of details that align That Hamilton Woman with the first four seasons of Babylon 5.

I inserted the film in my NetFlix queue to round-out the flow of disks in the mail and also to provide an overdue peek at Leigh and Olivier working together, apart from Fire Over England,  so I’d no expectation of Lord Nelson’s arrival at Naples as master of the Agamemnon, coincidentally, the name of John Sheridan’s command when he won The Battle of the Line at the end of the Earth-Minbari War.

According to the film, Nelson’s military career came to resemble that of a diplomat as the admiral’s predictions regarding Napoleon’s intent (global domination) were eventually recognized by the admiralty and Parliament as prescient.  The commentarian describes That Hamilton Woman as an overlooked jewel of an underfunded film largely because it was rushed into production to help draw America onto the side of the British in the run-up to World War II, so Nelson resembles Churchill in Korda’s film…and to my mind Sheridan resembles both of them as relatively ordinary military men coping with extra-ordinary diplomatic circumstances.  And Delenn and Lady Hamilton share divided loyalties, rising (or falling) from their comparatively straight and narrow paths to merge in the popular imagination with fascinating places in history.  And both of them were metamorphic changelings.

I don’t know that Joe Straczyinski would validate any of these allusions as his influences, but That Hamilton Woman is a remarkably interesting “propaganda” film in which instances of surprisingly astute visual imagery (shot in a rush on a shoestring — that really doesn’t show) bring history to life in the form of an allegory that remixes elements of mythstory brilliantly to serve contemporary audiences, and it probably always will — so long as we keep making dictators and people to oppose them.

The final episode of Season 4 is 90% pipe-laying and 50% bewilderment, but despite the confounding limitations of budget and seasonal continuity, Straczynski’s The Deconstruction of Falling Stars is a good deal more than a thrilling segment, it ties up more of the loosest ends of a 4year series than I imagined possible, while dropping the second shoe on the pedal and accelerating into a fifth season like an 11th hour stay of execution that requires the condemned to be exhumed.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to the arrival of the fifth season and to the several feature-length television films that round out the saga of this universe in which Nelson, Churchill, Hitler, Napoleon and Agamemnon all make interesting cameo appearances.  Maybe they’re all just a mirage of parallels, and then-again maybe there’s something constant in the human condition that makes Norman Corwin’s question intermittently answerable.

“What have we learned?”

I wonder if somewhere in America there’s a Truman’s Column in Hiroshima Square.  I hope it’s a rhetorical question.

04 Oct 09 - Posted by | Uncategorized |


  1. At least one error by the time I’d completed the second paragraph. Sheridan’s great victory had nothing to do with the Battle of the Line. Mere months into the Minbari War that lasted more than two years, he was the executive officer on the Lexington, a cruiser disabled by the Black Star, the pride of the Minbari fleet. With his commander killed in the Black Stars overwhelming initial onslaught, Sheridan ordered the placement of a couple of 30-megaton fusion bombs to be set in ambush of the Black Star when the Lexington’s distress signal was activated — drawing the Black Star in to polish them off.
    Sheridan then detonated the mines and killed the merciless Minbari flagship — the one and only moment in the war when an Earth vessel defeated the superior technology of that particular adversary.

    I’m watching the television movies, now that I’ve passed through all five 22-episode seasons of the series, and not until the second movie, In the Beginning, does it become clear that The Minbari War began about 16 years before Sheridan takes command of the station. The second movie makes no mention of the Agamemnon.
    In all, this series is a serious mix of curses and blessings. Joe Straczynski’s commentaries are crippled by his tendency to stammer, half-pronounce words and speak at an ungodly clip…but the very number of fascinating ideas presented is staggering. Some of them take several episodes to reveal themselves — Vorlons and Shadows are ancient races in polar opposition like Order and Chaos — and other ideas are thrown away with the ease of a lifted eyebrow — G’Kar realizes that the Narn have adored him into an action figure in order to pay no attention to the spiritually and intellectually challenging statements he’s inclined to deliver.
    The primary downside of Babylon 5 is the glacial pace of interminable exposition as primary mysteries unfold amidst character studies and complicated relationships, false leads and various contingency plans. These are also the primary advantages of getting hooked by this show, because most of the leads pay off in the fourth or fifth seasons — and I’ve still got four more television movies to cruise through. Season 4 made this journey worthwhile.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 10 Oct 09 | Reply

  2. Faith and Reason are your shoes. You’ll go farther with both than either or neither.
    –paraphrasing G’Kar.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 18 Oct 09 | Reply

  3. […] That Minbari Woman […]

    Pingback by My Oldest Posts « Scott Ellington's Blog | 10 Aug 14 | Reply

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