You’ll be familiar with Ernest Hemingway as the literary giant whose muscular prose helped define the artistic response to the apocalyptic first half of the 20th century. You’ll also be familiar with HBO as the television revolutionary prone to Emmy bait miniseries. You will also no doubt have knowledge of Nicole Kidman, actress, Scientology enabler and primary caregiver to Isabella and Connor Cruz. But this Martha Gellhorn broad – what’s the story? I’ll tell you what’s her story. This (Hemingway and Gellhorn) is her story – the part where she was getting shot at by fascists and banged by Hemingway anyway.So to begin with Gellhorn (Kidman) is just a scumbag journalist, that lowest of creatures. And then she meets Hemingway (Clive Owen). It’s in a bar, naturally – Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s local in Key West, Florida. The exchange banter like they’re in a Chandler novel and while she’s not exactly falling for his spiel she’s not exactly taking out a restraining order either.
He invites her to his place for a Spanish Civil War fundraiser. She is intrigued enough to think about it. She winds up rolling along and finds the door answered by Mrs Pauline Hemingway (Molly Parker) who has the patient exasperation you expect of a second wife literary muse. Pauline sees the heat between Hemingway and Gellhorn but she can no more do anything about it than Blandrew Stinkin can do a convincing American accent. Pauline may well be nervous. Although she is portrayed as blushing Catholic ingenue here he cheated on his first wife with her. Live by the pork sword, die by it. That’s the killer’s code.
“Pauline Hemingway sees the heat between Hemingway and Gellhorn but she can no more do anything about it than Blandrew Stinkin can do a convincing American accent.”
The boisterous revelry and intoxicating political rhetoric inspire Gellhorn. Hemingway and friends are going to Spain to make a film about the struggle and she gets caught up in the excitement and gets her impeccable arse down there even though as war correspondent for Collier’s Weekly Gellhorn is a greenhorn. Don’t you worry about that, Missy. You’ll be learning a lot over there.
Because when she reaches Madrid’s Palace Hotel among with the one-legged prostitutes, vodka swinging Russians and arsey flamenco dancers is Ernest Hemingway – braggadocio and bullshit radiating from him like a nuclear reactor. “GELLHORN!” he roars “HAVE A DRINK!” She acquiesces. They drink together. It will not be their last.
“‘I THOUGHT RUSSIANS HAD BALLS’ he bellows ‘HOW ABOUT A LITTLE RUSSIAN ROULETTE?’ He then plays Russian roulette. With the Russian. It’s a no score draw.”
Everyone at The Palace is drinking like it’s their last though. A pissed Russian General (Robert Duvall) gets fresh with Gellhorn who is totally handling it but still the bullish Hemingway has to leap in to defend her honour (which is more trouble than she ever took with it.) “I THOUGHT RUSSIANS HAD BALLS” he bellows “HOW ABOUT A LITTLE RUSSIAN ROULETTE?” He then plays Russian Roulette. With the Russian. It’s a no score draw as neither of them actually pull the trigger but it’s the first sign that he may actually like her more than a little.
The second comes when he locks her in her hotel room – that old move. She’s as angry as angry gets and when he finally unlocks the door is happy to tell him so. “DO I NEED TO TELL YOU WHAT THESE BASTARDS WOULD DO TO A BIG CREAMY BITCH LIKE YOU IN THE DARK?” I think she probably gets the picture there Ernest. He’s marked his territory. She’s mad but not entirely unflattered. Martha’s muffin is buttered. You know it’s on.
“Owen looks like a fancy dress bumptious twat but then so did Hemingway. Kidman looks incredible in high-waist dress slacks with those golden shoulder-length curls – stick a fag in her mouth and she’s Lauren Bacall. Seriously.”
He fucks the shit out of her during a bombing raid as masonry and plaster fall all around like Spike and Buffy boffing for the first time in Smashed. “YOU’VE NEVER FUCKED IF YOU HAVEN’T FUCKED WHILE FASCISTS BOMB YOUR HOTEL ROOM” you imagine him saying to a naive interviewer years down the line. “I REALLY LIKE YOU GELLHORN!” he whispers tenderly as she searches through the rubble for a serviceable pair of ear plugs.
As the Republicans get pelted by the Nationalists with artillery we slip into sepia and Zelig territory with Owen and Kidman jumping in and out of archive footage. It’s a little odd but it works well enough. The filmmaking is going well even though Ernest gets in a scuffle with Orson Welles over the narration and ostentatiously fires his ass which is pretty hilarious. Hemingway, ever the noxious control freak, ends up narrating it himself. While we’re on the subject the elderly Gellhorn (a latex smothered Kidman) narrates this film in that grizzled stagey old broad way. “I’m not dead yet, you fuck” she tells an editor. Not to be a dick about it but she died in 1998 so she kind of is.
“He lived in heroic times and that applies equally to the pushy trailblazer Gellhorn – a dame fearlessly touring every war zone history threw her way.”
So Hemingway and Gellhorn. They fucked, fought fascists, went shot-for-shot at the hotel bar then wrote it up at their leisure. Their exploits became noteworthy enough for them to be played decades later by actors much more attractive than themselves. Owen looks like a fancy dress bumptious twat but then so did Hemingway. Kidman looks incredible in high-waist dress slacks with those golden shoulder-length curls – stick a fag in her mouth and she’s Lauren Bacall. Seriously. The film does well in portraying a time where people who really didn’t need to travelled the world to fight great evil, risking everything they had for an ideal. I think you get less of that these days. It’s easy enough to mock Hemingway for his meat-headed machismo but his was an authentic response to his environment. He lived in heroic times and that applies equally to the pushy trailblazer Gellhorn – a dame fearlessly touring every war zone history threw her way.
Did they both need a slap? Absolutely, repeatedly and for every second they were alive. But men and women like this are the reason we are all not sucking sauerkraut, chanting Heil and have the freedom to write smartarse reviews like this one.
The verdict on Hemingway and Gellhorn: I QUITE LIKED IT. NOW GET ME A FUCKEN DRINK!
Marks out of 10: 7.5