Update: Review of London opening of The Fifth Column

This is a luke warm and unenthusiastic  review of Hemingway’s only play, but still, if you happen to be in London between now and April 15, perhaps worth a viewing.

The Fifth Column at Southwark Playhouse | Theatre review


Hardly mentioned and scarcely recognised among Ernest Hemingway’s renowned works, The Fifth Column is an overlooked piece that fits the aims of Two’s Company, which is to present forgotten theatre of the World Wars period. While some critics may argue that there is reason this play is typically disregarded as part of Hemingway’s literary canon, the show at Southwark Playhouse still results in a worthwhile evening.

It is 1937, Madrid; the brutal Spanish Civil War shows no sign of relenting, and impeding Nationalists besiege the city, its inhabitants subjected to widespread hunger and bombardments. Lodged at the Hotel Florida is a pair of American war correspondents who discover in each other a passionate, untimely love. However, in a play that deals heavily in themes of counter-espionage and faltering trust, characters fall prey to duplicity, and the antagonist must face the unmanageable choice between upholding his political convictions or his longing for the fulfilment of love.

Simplified lighting and sound effects are enough to create the tension and intensity of bombardment but not to the extent that they detract from the primary action of the play. Set designer Alex Marker for the most part successfully recreates the hotel as well as other locales in a relatively small space, except for instances in which Simon Darwen, as the lead, must poise himself on an armchair or a bed, and his towering stature dwarfs the stage’s proportions. A scene with the most physical, combatant action involving a Nazi cohort is awkwardly staged due to a lack of space for necessary movement. In addition to Alix Dunmore’s unfortunate wig, the underwhelming choice of costumes for the female roles is not reminiscent of a 1930s period piece, but rather, last season’s clearance rack.

The play is generally supported by a strong cast, even if accents falter a bit in the beginning (they eventually stabilise during the course of the play). Darwen’s portrayal of Phillip Rawlings, a counter-intelligence operative posing as a journalist, is rather aggravating at first, but Darwen’s feat is making an unsavoury character actually likeable. Although Dunmore is a pleasure to watch on stage as Dorothy Bridges (the rather dim-witted beloved), she perhaps misses the nuances of the potentially complex role and instead delivers a superficial character whose every line is meant at face value. The vapid romance between the two results in various scenes with rather uncomfortable dialogue, but this is as much Hemingway’s fault in composition as it is Darwen and Dunmore’s in execution.

Hemingway’s only full-length play pales in comparison to the pioneering style of his other prose works. The Fifth Column is very much a relic of a specific time and place, and, rather than attempting to valourise it as a “forgotten gem” it is probably best viewed as a literary genius’s ineffective excursion into a different genre.

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Hemingway’s Only Play: The Fifth Column

War is serious.
War is serious.


Ernest Hemingway wrote only one play, “The Fifth Column.” Written in the late 30’s as his relationship with journalist Martha Gellhorn began to take root, the action takes place in Madrid and features an American who is hard drinking and posing as a correspondent although actually he is acting on behalf of the rebels. Much of the action takes place in a room in the Hotel Florida as Franco’s forces surround the city. Hemingway wrote it in the middle of the Spanish civil War and he didn’t know who was going to win the war so he had no benefit of hindsight.

Hemingway and Martha
Hemingway and Martha


At the time (1938 was when it was published) Hemingway was already a celebrated novelist. His support was solidly behind republican cause against the Franco forces which were following a fascist path.


Martha Gellhorn was a young journalist but she had written a book and was developing a strong reputation as a journalist herself. She’d met Hemingway in Key West and they’d begun an affair and met in Spain again as both covered the war. They later wed but the relationship went sour. They divorced five years later.


The play was not particularly well received. The main characters are Philip Rawlings and Dorothy Bridges and the plot raises the issues surrounding the Spanish Civil War as well as the ruthlessness of the rival factions fighting.


A young Martha
A young Martha

Actor Simon Darwen is playing Philip Rawlings and he notes, “Rawlings is a guy who is very jaded and very tired and his job is taking a toll on him but there is love for Dorothy. He convinces himself he can’t have her and his work so he makes the choice to be so awful to her that she pushes him away.” Although Martha Gellhorn herself was independent and fearless, Dorothy in this play is clingy, needy, and a bit of a light-weight.


Hem relaxed--with the beard
Hem relaxed–with the beard

The play just opened in London so we’ll see if it is better received than the original. It is running until April 15th.     


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Biopic: Papa: Hemingway in Cuba (Movie)

A trailer has been unveiled for the Papa: Hemingway in Cuba movie. This biopic features the story of a friendship shared between Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, and Ed Myers, a journalist.

Hemingway in Cuba
Hemingway in Cuba

I just viewed the trailer and it looks good to me. It echoes Hemingway’s relationship with his great friend, Aaron Hotchner, although this relationship started later in life. Hemingway, for all of his flaws, often was welcoming to young writers and willing to share his personal time and experiences generously.

Please take a look if you have time. Best, Christine

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Hemingway’s Letters: Just a few more comments

‘‘It’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.’ Cambridge’s new collection of correspondence finds a writer generous to all, at the top of his game.

I have had two other posts on the letters so don’t want to over do it. Still, I can’t overemphasize the value in reading a bit about it to know Hemingway personally. This article summarizes why you should read some of them. They are funny, vulnerable, disclosing. Again, He specifically did not want them published. Those were his explicit instructions. Mary Hemingway, controller of his estate legally, went against that mandate. I don’t like that but I have to admit to loving his letters and what they reveal.  Read and enjoy.  Best, Christine

And he wrote to his Adriana
And he wrote to his Adriana
He wrote to Mary
He wrote to Mary

He wrote to Ingrid Bergman too<

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Movie to be made of “Across the River and Into the Woods”

Plierce Brosnan will bring a little-known Ernest Hemingway novel to the screen, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

adriana and gun

EH2841P nd. Ernest Hemingway and Adriana Ivancich with stuffed lion. Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. Copyright unknown in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
EH2841P nd.
Ernest Hemingway and Adriana Ivancich with stuffed lion. Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. Copyright unknown in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

adriana on boat

hem and her

Across the River and Into the Woods was one of Hemingway’s poorly received books.  It was written while Hemingway was infatuated with Adriana Ivancich who was the prototype for Renata.  It still sold decently and at one point, there was talk of a movie with a very young Sophia Loren as Renata and Gary Cooper as the Colonel.  I liked the book but did not find Renata to be an interesting character or sufficient to draw the intense attention of the Colonel who clearly was partially based on Hemingway himself.  Should be interesting.Hem and Adriana, far right

Adriana type
Adriana type
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More about Hemingway’s Letters

For readers of Ernest Hemingway, it can be tempting to mix the iconic writer’s fictional characters with the public persona of the writer himself. He never kept a journal and apparently integrated many of his personal experiences into his art.

More of Hemingway’s letters are being published and they are so revealing and fun. For example, Hemingway is known as being a bit of a bully to his wives yet some of the letters show great sensitivities to Martha Gellhorn  and admiration and support for her career as a writer. Please take a look when you have time.

Best, Christine

EH5598P 1940 Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn in Sun Valley, Idaho, 1940. Photographer unknown in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
EH5598P 1940
Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn in Sun Valley, Idaho, 1940. Photographer unknown in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
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Casting the Big Novels: Me as Casting Director

Now, who should play the great parts that Hem has provided for us?  My selections in bold:

Thinking cap

The Sun Also Rises: (1957)

Blake Lively

A Farewell to Arms: (1932)

  • Helen Hayes (Angelina Jolie) as Catherine

    Angelina as Catherine
  • Gary Cooper (Clive Owen) as Frederic

A Farewell to Arms (1957)

  • Jennifer Jones as Catherine (Hemingway dismayed that she was 40. Catherine was supposed to be in her twenties.)
  • Rock Hudson as Frederic

A Farewell to Arms (In Love and War) (1996)

  • Sandra Bullock as Catherine
  • Chris O’Donnell as Frederic

For Whom the Bell Tolls: (1943)

  • Ingrid Bergman (Rooney Mara) as Maria
  • Gary Cooper (Ben Affleck) as Robert Jordan

The Snows of Kilimanjaro  (1952)

  • Gregory Peck (Ed Harris) as Harry
  • Susan Hayward (Sharon Stone) as Helen
  • Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) as Cynthia

    Kate Beckinsale

The Old Man and the Sea ( 1958)

  • Spencer Tracy ( Javier Bardem) as Santiago


Javier Bardem





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When More Is . . . More

Reading is my life.
Reading is my life.

Purple is not only highly coloured prose,” he wrote. “It is the world written up, intensified and made pleasurably palpable, not only to suggest the impetuous abundance of Creation, but also to add to it by showing – showing off – the expansive power of the mind itself … When the deep purple blooms, you are looking at a dimension, not a posy.”

On praise of purple prose
In praise of purple prose

This is an interesting article in praise of “purple prose,” the opposite of minimalist prose favored by Hemingway. It does not pan that prose but argues that there is a place for “more.” nice commentary. Best, Christine

More is more
More is more
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Restoring the Finca Vigia outside Havana : Work to Begin



Havana, Cuba (CNN)Ernest Hemingway’s home near Havana is expected to soon receive an infusion of badly needed building supplies from the United States.


Before it is too late, actual collaboration between the U.S. and Cuba is happening regarding the restoration of Hemingway’s beloved Cuban home. He lived there for about twenty years. As mentioned in previous posts, he and Mary left many papers and mementos when they were not allowed to return. Apparently, there remain many writings/notes of historical and literary interest even after Mary was permitted to remove some of them  post-Hemingway’s death.

Finca Vigia
Finca Vigia
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The opportunity to write in Hemingway’s Key West Studio

Anybody can tour the Spanish colonial estate in Key West, Florida, where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s. Now a new contest is offering one lucky and talented writer a chance to work in the studio where Hemingway wrote.

Most of us can’t be a Hemingway even if surrounded by his aura and his home. Still, it has to inspiring. Enter the contest and maybe you can be the one to sit in his chair and banish any thought of writer’s block. Click above link for details.


This is not the Key West studio but the writer at work anyway.
This is not the Key West studio but the writer at work anyway.

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