Tag Archives: Scathing Reviews

Hemingway & Gellhorn Airs Tonight on HBO in the Wake of an NYT Scathing Review

28 May

There aren’t many things I love as much as a quality period drama, which is why I have been so looking forward to tonight’s premiere of ‘Hemingway & Gellhorn’ on HBO. The made for TV film, airing at 9 p.m. EST, is the tale of the trailblazing female reporter Martha Gellhorn and her husband Ernest Hemingway. Spanning many years, viewers will discover how the pair met, fell in love, experienced major world events, and eventually had to go their separate ways.

Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as Hemingway and Gellhorn

Extra attention has been given to the production as it was produced by James Gandolfini and is Philip Kaufman’s first film in eight years, as well as first made for TV film ever. Promotion for the project, which was six years in the making, has been aggressive- I even awoke this morning to an advertisement announcing its premiere on my Kindle Touch (Aside: my Kindle was lying next to me in bed. Until now, I hadn’t realized what an intimate way to reach consumers the Kindle advertisements truly were!) I literally started my day with these two characters in my face.

I am an avid HBO fan and viewer, and think of myself as biased regarding their programs. With Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman heading the distinguished cast, I saw no reason why I wouldn’t find this production at least 90% pleasing. But as I picked up today’s NYT ‘The Arts’ section, I was dismayed to find a scathing review written by Mike Hale.

The Review

It is noted that Kaufman described his masterpiece, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” as an “intimate epic.” Hale plays on this, saying, “Unfortunately, ‘Hemingway & Gellhorn’ is neither intimate nor epic. It’s a disheartening misfire: a big, bland historical melodrama built on platitudes about honor and the writing life that crams in actual figures and incidents but does little to illuminate them, or to make us care about the romance at its center.”

Being a writer myself, I hope this isn’t true. Hemingway has long represented a sort of romanticized, mysterious, masculine beacon in my mind. His war-ridden trysts are some of the most fascinating events in his personal life. It’s an opinion I think I share with many other literature lovers. If HBO’s latest original period drama really “has nothing new or interesting to tell us about Hemingway or Gellhorn or the times they lived in,” as Hale claims, I will be sorely disappointed.

I know HBO can produce an outstanding historical standalone- take Mildred Pierce for example. The raw emotion set against a simple 1930s California suburban landscape actually blew me away. Perhaps it’s because HBO has set the bar so high of late, that critics are holding its programs to such serious standards. And alas, there is much to be expected as it’s Kaufman’s first film in eight years.

But other complaints from Hale including “fake-poetic dialogue,” miscasting, and a digital trick that “veers into tastelessness,” make me wary about tonight’s premiere. I’m still watching, don’t get me wrong. I’m only hoping the negative elements of the film end up being forgivable, because this certainly is one film I really just want to like.