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USA 2012
Directed by
Philip Kaufman
150 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Hemingway & Gellhorn

This HBO telemovie recounts the stormy relationship between acclaimed writer Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) from the time of the Spanish Civil War to their eventual divorce in 1945.

After some jaunty banter on the occasion of their first meeting in Florida’s Key West where Hemingway has just bagged a big marlin, Philip Kaufman’s film takes us to civil war Spain where the pair reconnect and we are introduced us to some of the well-known American supporters of the anti-fascist freedom fighters including Robert Capa (Santiago Cabrera), John Dos Passos (David Strathairn), and film-maker Joris Ivens (played by Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica) along with Tony Shalhoub as a Russian apparatchik and Robert Duvall as a Russian general. The bulk of the film is given over to the pair’s burgeoning relationship during that tragic conflict and beyond into WWII charting Hemingway’s increasingly hostility to Gellhorn’s independence, to the point of trying to destroy her career as a war correspondent.

The film was not well-received critically but it is a two-sided affair and there is as much to be said for it as against. Thus the device of having the elderly Gellhorn reminiscing on her time with Hemingway was widely criticized as adding nothing but it establishes her as the point of view from which we see the relationship and most importantly her as a survivor of it.  This is critical to a film which is pitting someone who Gellhorn refers to as a potential “footnote” to someone else's career, against the most iconic writer of the 20th century. (Gellman was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944. She was also among the first journalists to report from Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated by US troops on April 29, 1945)

Kaufman was castigated for having Owen play Hemingway in Great White Hunter mode and Kidman never looking less than ravishing as she dodges bullets with the boys and succours newly-orphaned children but whilst this is admittedly Hollywood varnish it does give the film a good deal of dashing old-fashioned adventure style (Kaufman was a writer on Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981) with both actors doing excellent work in this respect (whether the scene in which the pair consummate their attraction as bombs blow their hotel room to pieces and covers them in debris work in this regard is another matter, though given Kidman’s film The Paperboy , released the same year in which she is banged silly by John Cusack on a washing machine perhaps the actress was trying to make some kind of statement) .

Apropos of this, the generally-derided Forrest Gump (1994) style of photographic special effects whilst they do look awkward actually suit the period depicted as well as allowing Kaufman to cover a large amount of ground for what was no doubt a limited budget.

Unfairly dismissed Hemingway & Gellhorn is a worthy film that does the valuable work of bringing to a wider audience a figure little known outside of journalistic circles.




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