HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn Should’ve Been Gellhorn & Hemingway!

Last night I watched the new HBO Movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” not really sure who Gellhorn was, not sure why I cared—am not a particular fan of Hemingway the Man even if I recall enjoying Farewell to Arms and the Sun Also Rises.  I tend to think of him as an alcoholic and a bully, a view which this film did not dispel. That said, the movie hooked me and I stayed that way through the entire 2 1/2 hours, mostly thanks to a terrific performance by Nicole Kidman, who plays Martha Gellhorn so well that by the end of the evening I was reading up on Ms. Gellhorn in fascination.

Gellhorn, who died in 1998, was perhaps one of the best war correspondents of the 20th Century, with a career spanning more than sixty years.  From the Spanish Civil War through World War II to the Middle East and more, she was there bringing each conflict home in exquisite, agonizing detail.  I found an article she wrote about flying with a Black Widow Squadron in WWII.  Read it, you’ll appreciate a great, moving piece of journalism.  I’d like to read more of her work.

Kidman outshone Clive Owen‘s Ernest Hemingway.  That doesn’t mean I think Owen did a terrible job—he was good, but I kept seeing Clive Owen, not Papa Hemingway.   Of course, my opinion of Hemingway is that of an irascible individual and perhaps in the days of Hemingway and Gellhorn he was a bit more perky, more upbeat, more like Owen’s portrayal.  I have been a fan of Clive Owen’s since way, way back when he was the Chancer on a UK TV series and I’m still a huge fan.  He probably had the harder role—trying to make likable, or at least understandable, a selfish drunk. (But let me not mince words here!)

The film focuses on the romance between Hemingway and Gellhorn, beginning with a flirtation in Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West (now Captain Tony’s–been there!) and culminating in their marriage on the eve of World War II.  Gellhorn is the ambitious one, keen to go to a war zone and report on the ground. Hemingway is much more inclined to remain at home, in Cuba or Key West, fishing and partying, although he goes with her on many assignments, reporting separately—until he finally subverts her attempts to report on D-Day.  I had the feeling he was jealous of her reputation, possessive and needy in the extreme.

I found this quote from Gellhorn about her marriage to Hemingway:  “I feel quite sick, I cannot describe this to you. Shivering sick. I watch him adoring his image, with such care and such tolerance and such accuracy in detail … I weep for the eight years I spent … worshipping his image with him, and I weep for whatever else I was cheated of due to that time-serving.”   Regrets? She had a few…

This is more Gellhorn’s story than Hemingway’s.  She emerges independent and strong—even heroic.  Should have been titled “Gellhorn & Hemingway.”  I liked the film, though I gather it has had mixed reviews, some of which I’ve included below.  Curious to hear your views.

4 comments on “HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn Should’ve Been Gellhorn & Hemingway!

  1. Janine says:

    I appreciated so much more your review than the others. Thank you!

  2. I just recently viewed that movie as well, and my feelings echo your own. It does not present Hemingway in a very flattering light; he appears self-centered and quite the bully on occasion. And maybe he was, who knows. It doesn’t detract from his writing, which remains amazing. I would imagine many of the literary giants we grow up admiring are all too human.

    Kidman WAS wonderful and believable as Martha, wasn’t she? Who would’ve thought she could play such a gritty character so well?

  3. Linda Schmalz says:

    Looking forward to seeing it based on your review. Don’t have HBO though. Will wait for Netflix to release it.

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