HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn Dramatizes a Literary Love Affair

HBO's latest epic, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, tells the story of passionate lovers and literary giants Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn

Credit: HBO Canada

Sparks fly between Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in HBO’s biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn

Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen bring famous love story to the small screen

Filmgoers recently saw Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but that was hardly a definitive biography. 

The new HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn, however, is a sprawling made-for-TV epic that chronicles an important chapter of Hemingway’s life: his tumultuous seven-year relationship with war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. 

Just as Hemingway (played by Clive Owen) was an over-the-top icon of masculinity, Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) was no shrinking violet. A trailblazing female reporter who made her reputation on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War, Gellhorn was one of the few people capable of standing toe-to-toe with Hemingway, both on and off the page. 

“When they came together, they were fiercely intelligent and fiercely passionate,” says Owen, although his co-star points out the same characteristics that attracted them to each other led to a volatile relationship.

“He thought he wanted a woman who was an adventurer,” adds Kidman. “Then, when he finally gets her and she won’t settle down and she won’t be domesticated, he doesn’t know what to do with that.”  

According to director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), the film is based on Gellhorn’s memoirs, which recount the couple’s travels throughout the world during a time when Hemingway was “possibly the most influential writer of all American writers,” says Kaufman. “Martha Gellhorn, in a sense, out-Hemingwayed Hemingway.” 

As is typical of HBO Original movies, Hemingway & Gellhorn is a big-budget production loaded with well-known actors, including David Strathairn, Molly Parker, Parker Posey, Peter Coyote, Tony Shalhoub and Lars Ulrich, better known to metal fans as the drummer of Metallica. 

Although the relationship between the two was relatively brief, Owen feels that “there’s something very special in the fact that it only lasted a certain amount of time,” he says. “It was probably a huge regret to [Hemingway] that it did end. The story of the film, really, is more about how she finds her voice. He’s kind of living this life of maybe just wanting to be Ernest Hemingway and for her to live her life through that as well. She was too independent – that’s kind of what ended it really. But it was an incredible relationship for that time.”

Hemingway & Gellhorn airs Monday, May 28 at 8pm on HBO Canada.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.