Hemingway & Gellhorn on HBO

By Murissa Shalapata
Photo Credit: blog.zap2it.com

Hemingway and Gellhorn follows what was the culmination of a love affair, marriage and eventual divorce of two writers who thrusted themselves into war and chaos in order to avoid the war of boredom and "domesticity". Ernest Hemingway, played by Clive Owen, in the midst of his second marriage becomes smitten with Martha Gellhorn, played by Nicole Kidman, and her bravery as a woman wanting to capture genuine tales of the people left abandoned, suffering and dying during a time of war (Spain, Finland, China, and Europe in WW II). Her bravery at times is revealed to the viewer to be more of naivete, however, I did catch myself wondering during the two and half hour made for HBO movie wether the naive demeanor was intentional or the result of Kidman failing to rise to the blood-muddied trench boots of Gellhorn.
The real Hemingway and Gellhorn
Photo Credit: litreactor.com

I was distracted by various oddities within the film. For one, the film showcased Clive Owen's ass, Hemingway's straightforward prose and Gellhorn's tenacity but this was foreshadowed by Kidman's inability to convince me that she was Gellhorn as the voracious lover and the tenacious female journalist. The chemistry between both Owen and Kidman was laughable at times, especially when Kidman wouldn't allow herself to kiss his fully. This is a trait of hers and with her smooth and taught Barbie-like lips and face it appeared that a blow-up doll was being rubbed against Owen's face to simulate the act of making out.
photo credit: themetapicture.com

We all have our own idea of who and what Hemingway was and meant and so Owen had a slight character advantage to work with as opposed to Gellhorn who is not as famed/taught/celebrated/critiqued etc. All I saw was Kidman acting, trying to be a tough journalist but Owen, on the other hand, got better as the film went on and by the end I bought that he could portray Hemingway at his finest, drunkest and lowest. But when the two came together I didn't feel the want, the need for them to stay together and the sadness of their doomed love affair wasn't something I cared about.

I do love Kidman and she is what I believe to be a Hollywood star but in Hemingway and Gellhorn she falls flat. However, so does the filmmaking itself which brings me to the second point of distraction. The film constantly goes in and out of black and white, then turns to sepia then the screen fills with colour once again. For now I cannot come up with a convincing reason for a filmmaker to do such a thing. Of course there is the idea that the look of black and white/sepia footage makes the film appear more historical as if purposing itself as fact or portions of captured reality of literary lives of geniuses we envy in first year university and onward. In the end, however, the effects look unpleasant, cheap, cartoonish and take away from the story telling. The cinematography is dulled and small breaks of disbelief are able to creep into the viewers mind leaving time for questioning, Is my television going sour or is it my excitement for this film?
Photo Credit: nicolekidmanofficial.com

I made it through to the end as negative my review may be of the film, and what kept me going was those gems of prose written by the two characters at hand. If this film does not make you want to watch it again it will make you want to write, perhaps something better.

In the meantime as we wait for the next great HBO series or film I suggest we turn to the Hatfield and McCoys on the History Channel.

Murissa Shalapata writes for her food and travel based blog, The Wanderfull Traveler and articles for Vecu Magazine, an online publication. She is published in subTerrain, a Canadian literary magazine (issue #61, 2012) and various small chapbooks created at UBC Okanagan. She is graduating this June (2012) with a double major in creative writing and art history and was awarded the Creative and Critical Faculty of Art History Prize. She is currently living in the Okanagan where writes poetry and her first novel.


  1. I think you're wrong. "Hemingway and Gellhorn" is a good movie - it really captures the essence of the conflict in Spain while wrapping an intense love story around it. It made me feel sad that they didn't stay together. I like Hemingway and I understand him - he would have been better off with Martha for the rest of his life that ended so wrong in a shocking death! Kidman and Owen did a fine job bringing them to life. The racy scenes were delicately done (which I usually don't approve of) and they sparked on screen - which captured my attention all through the movie. I've seen it three times already - and pardon me while I now view it again! I hope they both win the SAG Award Sunday!


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