A Subtle Portrayal of Hemingway Affair

By Arnold, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

A Subtle Portrayal of Hemingway Affair


Arnold, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Arguably restrained and refined to a fault, the biographical heartbreaker "In Love and War" seems to be attracting consensus rejection from movie reviewers. Accustomed as they are to finer and bolder raptures, the critics may be acting a tad impatient with a unique and absorbing account of thwarted romance.

Handsomely directed by Richard Attenborough, "In Love and War" certainly reflects something different in the annals of cinematic romance derived from the life and legend of Ernest Hemingway.

The source material, a memoir titled "Hemingway in Love and War," sheds some belated light on the love affair that presumably inspired the writer's second successful novel, "A Farewell to Arms," published in 1928. First filmed in 1932 with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, the book idealizes a doomed wartime passion between Frederic Henry, an American injured while driving an ambulance on the Italian front, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse who consents to seek refuge with him in Switzerland when a return to battle threatens to separate them.

Hemingway, portrayed in the film by Chris O'Donnell, was an 18-year-old volunteer with the Red Cross soon after the United States entered the war. He was severely injured by machine-gun fire while distributing snacks and smokes to Italian troops in summer 1918. While recuperating, he fell in love with a nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky, wistfully and attractively embodied by Sandra Bullock. Agnes was eight years his senior and evidently a great favorite with every patient in her care.

One of them, Henry S.Villard, played by Mackenzie Astin, re-established contact with Agnes years later and was entrusted with a diary she kept during the months when she was simultaneously caring for Hemingway and falling in love with him. An understanding of some kind was reversed after Hemingway returned home to Oak Park, Ill.

Agnes got cold feet about the prudence and suitability of it all - not an unwise thing to do in retrospect. She was tempted by a better proposal from an Italian physician, pleasantly and elegantly impersonated by Emilio Bonucci for Mr. Attenborough. She also backed away from this alliance after breaking off with Hemingway. …

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