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Hemingway and Gellhorn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErnest Hemingway. You’ve likely heard of him. Martha Gellhorn? Likely not, unless you tuned into HBO’s 2012 movie about the late macho writer and his third wife. I haven’t paid for premium channels since I began writing seriously three years ago, so I was unaware of this little gem. Rylie and I happened to be browsing the DVDs in our public library when she came across it and said, “Hey Mom, this one looks like one you’d want to watch.” She was right.


The movie starts out in Key West. Martha Gellhorn meets Hemingway at the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar and sparks fly between the two, despite the fact he’s married with children. Papa follows the intriguing war correspondent overseas to the Spanish Civil War and their romance explodes full-force.

The Original Sloppy Joe's
The Original Sloppy Joe’s

They eventually return to the states, his wife learns of his infidelity and refuses him a divorce. Hemingway dedicates For Whom the Bell Tolls to his Marty and leaves for Cuba with her. He ultimately wins his divorce and promptly asks Gellhorn (living with him) to become his third wife. She agrees. Always the roving reporter, she begs him to accompany her to China.

Hem reluctantly agrees. The film alludes to her interest in other men during their travels. Upon their return to Cuba, she is bored with the domestic life and he drinks more heavily, lazing the days away on a boat with his friends. They fight. He hits her, tells her he has taken her Colliers job as war correspondent, and basically destroys the love she felt for him in one fell swoop.

Marty refuses to sit by while Hemingway gets the first-hand account of the war, managing to gain access to a Navy ship floating hospital disguised as a nurse. Hemingway meets another woman (who later becomes his fourth and final wife) and Gellhorn divorces him. Fast-forward to the final events of his life and a glimpse at Gellhorn’s subsequent attitude toward her days as Mrs. Hemingway.

Favorite Quotes:

Hemingway to Gellhorn on writing well…

“The whole trick is learning how people talk. Most people don’t listen.”

Hemingway to Gellhorn on war…

“There are a lot of bargains to be had in time of war if you don’t mind wearing the clothes of the dead.”

Gellhorn’s reflecting about her marriage to Hemingway…

“When there wasn’t a war going on, we managed to create our own.”

“I don’t want to be a footnote in someone else’s life.”


Fiery on-screen chemistry between Nicole Kidman as Martha “Marty” Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway. Their first love scene is one I won’t soon forget and a reason I’d watch the movie again.

Objective presentation of both figures, allowing the viewer to make her own conclusions about them.

Quick pacing throughout the first three-quarters of the film.

If I were the movie producer:

I would have delved a bit deeper into some of the secondary characters’ connections to Hemingway and Gellhorn’s relationship.

I would have included more details about Hemingway’s writing habits.

I would have ended the film in Cuba while Hem and Marty were still madly in love. Yes, we can guess (if we didn’t already know) that this couple didn’t get their happily-ever-after. The final quarter of the movie was sad and slow for me as it showed the inevitable unraveling of Hemingway and Gellhorn’s relationship and even worse, Papa’s difficult, final years.

For the curious:

Article and photo from the Hemingway-Gellhorn Wedding

Jerome Tuccille wrote the book, Hemingway and Gellhorn (2011).

Martha Gellhorn wrote a memoir, Travels with Myself and Another, that details many of the events touched upon in the movie. The “another” of course, refers to Hemingway.

Boston Globe Review of HBO’s Hemingway and Gellhorn  (I read this article after writing mine. I think it’s interesting how the two leads are so similar.)

Has any movie caught your attention recently?

Casa Antigua - Hemingway's First Home in Key West
Casa Antigua – Hemingway’s First Home in Key West

10 comments on “Hemingway and Gellhorn

  1. I love this, Jolyse! The history of Hemmingway’s life and loves is so fascinating to me. Have you read The Paris Wife? It’s a great novel about Hemmingway and Hadley Richardson, who I think was wife #2. Again he had his moments of treating her wonderfully and those when he was a cad! Now I’ll have to find this movie!

    1. Hi Marcia! Thanks so much for stopping by. I will definitely have to read The Paris Wife. I believe Hadley was his first wife as Pauline was his second during his Key West years. I feel most for Hadley since she couldn’t have anticipated his need for serial marriages. The movie about Gellhorn alluded to his need for a muse. I agree that the man had his brilliant moments along with great faults. A complex character to say the least.

      Enjoy the rest of your week. 🙂

  2. I know many think highly of Hemingway but the more you put out there, Jolyse, the sleazier he seems. If I was his second wife, I’d consider myself lucky to get rid of him.

    1. Hi Donna! Hemingway certainly wasn’t infallible. Like Marcia mentioned in her comment, I agree that he had his wonderful and horrid moments. The movie, if accurate, showed that he could be spiteful and cruel as well as undisciplined in his personal life, but then it didn’t show that Marty had an affair while they traveled abroad, which I’ve learned from other reputable sources.

      I mentioned to my husband that Hemingway and Gellhorn were a good match in many ways. They both were writers, had an insatiable need to explore the world, and were arrogant. He in turn pointed out they were also an incredibly poor match. Neither one of them was mature enough to teach the other one how to compromise or exercise self-control.

  3. I always find it fascinating to watch movies where you’ve been to the filming location. It must be even more interesting to see a movie that was filmed where you live. Sounds like a great movie!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Nicole! Having lived and worked in NYC for a few years in my early twenties, I became used to seeing celebrities and TV/movies being filmed. Fun stuff.

      How’s the writing going?

    1. Hi Ruth! It was a compelling movie. Of course, I’m fascinated by Hemingway because of his Key West connection and his writing (I particularly like his short stories.) Like I said, I’d watch the film again, just for the chemistry between the actors. If you watch it, I’d love to hear your take on it. Happy travels! 🙂

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