I’m currently re-reading Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and I was curious to watch Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012), starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. Although the film chronicles the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, evoking their romance during a tumultuous time in history, subjects with great potential, it has a repetitive script that disappoints in delivering a credible and interesting story unfortunately. Despite all that, the costumes and the set design were what made the movie totally worth watching.
Costume designer Ruth Myers did a wonderful job outfitting the characters, especially Nicole Kidman, for whom she created a simplistic elegance. The outfit Martha wears at the beginning of the film, when she meets Hemingway for the first time at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, remains my favourite of the entire film. Casual off-white blouse, high-waisted khakis, white espadrilles and leather strap watch, a flawless look, as relevant for the 1930s as it is for today. The red lips and the wavy bob hair style are what completely seal this look as a true classic.
The film is mostly set in the 1930’s and 1940’s, all around the world, from Spain, to Cuba, Finland, China and Normandy, mainly war zones, and the clothes appropriately reflected that atmosphere. Those were the times when women working on war service adopted trousers as a practical necessity. Of course there is the masculine style a working woman like Martha Gellhorn adopts that appeals to me, regardless of its functional role in the film.
The 1930s were also a time when Marlene Dietrich, Kate Hepburn and Coco Chanel introduced trousers to women as a perfectly acceptable piece for their wardrobe. There is actually a joke in the film, when a Chinese woman asks Hemingway to tell her more about how Dietrich wears pants. In fact, Nicole is wearing “Marlene trousers” throughout the film: high and tiny waist and a flagging cut at the thighs and ankles.
A beautiful scalopped dress. It appears black here, but it’s in fact navy.
She wears a blouse with folkloric motifs when they go to Cuba.
A dress in an exotic print. The location is also Cuba. I like the way the costumes evoke the place.
Another high-waisted pants – shirt look that I like. It works so fine with the crossbody bag: she’s on assignment, so she chooses a practical bag.
As I was mentioning earlier, the set decoration is beautiful too and I would like to note a few details (you can read a more detailed description on Architectural Digest), because this is another visual element that plays a major role in the story telling. For example, to recreate The Hotel Florida in Madrid, where Hemingway and Gellhorn fell in love and took refuge with reporters and political figures during The Spanish Civil War, Jim Erickson, the set designer, and his team used Oakland’s abandoned 16th Street train station, designed by architect Jarvis Hunt at the beginning of the 20th century (photos three and five). Adding a chandelier, period furniture, antique rugs and a bar to the worn-out station with floor-to-ceiling windows, they were able to create a lobby setting that faithfully resembled the luxurious Hotel Florida.
But my favourite set decoration in the film must be Hemingway’s office in the couple’s home in Cuba. After they got married in 1940, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn moved into a home in an estate outside Havana called Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”), which is now a museum, where the author finished his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls and where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and A Moveable Feast. Erickson says that they looked for inspiration in the archival photographs from the Hemingway museums in Cuba and Key West’s Old Town to reconstruct the interiors. I love the job they did, that masculine aesthetic of the space that truly makes me picture Hemingway there writing. I tried to capture a little of the atmosphere in the images below. I have to say that if I could, I would reconstruct this space to the tiniest detail in my own home. You can also watch this video, a tour of the Finca Vigía, to see how accurately they recreated the décor.
photos: stills from the film captured by me / the last photo is a publicity still (Karen Ballard/HBO)/ production credits