I suppose you could give this film a secondary title like Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway and Mrs Martha Gellhorn Hemingway Go To War. That would be correct in both the literal sense as well as the figurative.
It seemed like bombs were bursting from the moment they first laid eyes on one another in 1936, at Hemingway’s favorite Key West haunt, a bar called Sloppy Joe’s, then continued through the Fascists shelling of Madrid’s Hotel Florida during the Spanish Civil War, and from there, even more bombs were falling around them during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, China.
As Gellhorn said, “We were good in war, and when there was no war, we made our own.” You see the film was as much about their globe-trotting years of living dangerously, as it was about their conflicts as man and woman.
Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn, HBO premiered its Hemingway & Gellhorn for those in attendance at the Cannes Film Festival recently, then unveiled it for the rest of us on TV a few nights ago.
The film utilizes a framing device of having an elderly Gellhorn tell us about her life and times with Papa Hemingway. The opening image is a stark closeup. You know Kidman is in there, somewhere, beneath the makeup, prosthetics, the serious mien, and a gray wig, but it is hard to see her. In fact you can’t see that it is Kidman. This framing device of Gellhorn talking about her adventures appears intermittently through the film, and only at the end do we come to realize that she’s being interviewed.
Let’s have a look. Clive Owen as Hemingway is fresh off the boat, so to speak. He’s just back from an open water fishing bout with a huge marlin, and he looks suitably unkempt. But Gellhorn is no shrinking violet. She can handle a flirt even one who is the epitome of macho such as Mr. Hemingway. Nothing much happens past introductions and a certain sizing up done by each of them. He’s a world renown author, and she’s also an author, with press clippings to prove it.
We rejoin them in Spain. The Spanish loyalists are at war with fascist Franco and his supporters. Hemingway and his friends which included John Dos Passos played by David Strathairn, famed photographer Robert Capa played by Santiago Cabrera, and the Dutch film director Joris Ivens have decided to cover the war by shooting a documentary film about it. It would serve as a rallying cry for the Spanish loyalists. Into their midst arrives war correspondent Martha Gellhorn who is covering the war for Colliers Magazine.