In his upcoming PBS documentary series, Ken Burns tackles one of America’s greatest – and most enigmatic – writers.
“Hemingway” – airing April 5 through 7 from 8 to 10 p.m. – tells the story of the celebrated career and tragic life of Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, whose works include “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
And yet for all his literary success – his spare yet profound prose, based on his global adventures, would come to define him as the quintessential writer – he led a difficult, physically challenging, much-married life that ended in his suicide in 1961 three weeks before his 62nd birthday. The documentary portrays a man of his time – mythic, troubled and tragic – drawing on celebrated actors, and veterans of Burns’ documentaries, to bring Hemingway’s words and those of his contemporaries to life, as well as materials from the Hemingway collection of manuscripts, letters, scrapbooks and photographs at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Jeff Daniels provides the voice of Hemingway, with Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson as his four wives. Peter Coyote is once again the narrator.
Interviews with biographers and scholars, including Mary Dearborn and Mark Dudley, shed light on the man and his work, while writers from around the world — including Edna O’Brien, Abraham Verghese, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mary Karr, Tim O’Brien, Akiko Manabe, Leonardo Padura and Tobias Wolff — deepen the film’s exploration of Hemingway’s oeuvre. “Hemingway” also includes commentary from his surviving son, Patrick, and from the late Sen. John McCain, whose lifelong role model was Robert Jordan, the protagonist of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
“ ‘Hemingway’ is both an intimate, turbulent family saga and an examination of some of the greatest works of American literature in the 20th century,” Burns said in a statement. “The documentary attempts to show how flawed our assumptions about Ernest Hemingway and his writing have been. At the same time, we are unsparing in our inquiry into less well-known aspects of his character and writing. Our intent is to offer viewers an honest portrayal of a complex and conflicted writer who left an indelible mark on literature.”
Added director Lynn Novick: “In an era when Americans are reevaluating so many icons, Hemingway is a particularly compelling figure to revisit. He was hugely complicated, deeply flawed and he truly revolutionized the art of writing.”
The documentary series will be accompanied by a host of materials across several platforms.
For more, visit pbs.org.
– Georgette Gouveia