Nicole Kidman is Marth Gellhorn, correspondent and third wife of Ernest Hemingway. She narrates the story while looking directly into the camera. I believe about half of what she tells us and not the other half. That's not counting the half she leaves out. I guess that's three halves but it's okay if it doesn't add up because neither does her story.
To put it in brief, Gellhorn is a beautiful young, ambitious Collier's correspondent who runs into the married Hemingway in a Key West saloon. He puts the moves on her, calls her "Elegance," and she responds to this manly man with the hairy chest and all that charm.
That's the first half of the movie. Hemingway commits adultery out of sheer self indulgence, divorces his rigidly Catholic wife and insists on marrying Gellhorn who -- she tells us -- "abhors marriage." (Sure.) In the second half of the movie, we begin what almost amounts to an entirely different Lifetime Movie Network film. Hemingway not as forceful love but as male chauvinist pig.
He feels she's competing with him, perhaps outdoing him. He belittles her, calling her "Little Miss Human Interest." He gets drunk in her absence, belts her around when she returns. He takes up with Mary Welsh and abuses her until she demands a divorce, which he is loathe to give her because he feels her owns her. "I MADE YOU!", he shouts through her locked door. To cap it off, Gellhorn winds up being interviewed by a smug David Frost type who asks her to discuss "your debt to Hemingway." It's like watching a full reel of clichés spin out, one after another. Historical accuracy is almost a minor problem. We hear and see everything from the point of view of Martha Gellhorn. We hear private conversations between the couple for which there is no evidence other than what we hear in the script. Ernest Hemingway tells Martha that he was impotent with his wife from day one? Who's kidding whom? And Martha deliberately goes alone to Europe to cover the more dramatic events of World War II while Hemingway sits with his cronies at Finca Vigia in Cuba getting soused? That's simply not true. Hemingway was a correspondent who landed on the Normandy beach and followed the war armed with a Tommy gun -- at least, if you believe Carlos Baker's definitive biography. Hemingway managed to get himself reprimanded because correspondents are not supposed to fire weapons.
The movie is a cheap piece of melodrama and Harlequin Romance. Gellhorn was wife number three and, like all four of Hemingway's wives, managed to insinuate herself into his good graces (let's say) and land a celebrity husband. They all did it the same way. If, say, there was a party, the wife-to-be was able to seat herself between Hemingway and his wife of the moment -- and Hemingway was too dumb or self-absorbed to see what was going on. His first wife was Hadley, and he remained closest to her for the rest of his life. Gellhorn was just squeezed in somewhere along the line.
The production values are high. The movie is easy to look at and the wardrobe and make up is convincing. Nicole Kidman is no longer a teen ager but her nose still has that geometrically perfect curve and the curves are not confined to her nose. Clive Owen is the priapic Hemingway and he looks and sounds a little like Groucho Marx. We do get to meet some figures of historical interest -- Robert Capa and John dos Pasos and Maxwell Perkins, for instance -- but only well enough to shake hands. Most of those names probably won't ring any bells with younger or less sophisticated viewers but that's not entirely the fault of the script.
I don't want to take up much more space but let me emphasize that I don't really object to historical inaccuracies. Real stories need to be condensed. Some people and events need to be elided. I understand that. But the thrust of history can't be warped to the extent that reality itself is discarded. (How about a war movie in which the Nazis win?) This isn't the story of a love affair between Hemingway and Gellhorn and its subsequent dissolution. This is the story of heroine Martha Gellhorn, talented, independent, strong, seduced, loving, adoring, abused, and humiliated. "I will not be a footnote to someone else's life," she says. Sadly, narcissistic ass though he was, it was Hemingway who wrote the novels and stories that won the Nobel Prize, not Gellhorn.
"That's my last famous author painted on the wall, looking as if he were alive."
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