Telling the story of one of America’s most famous literary couples, the movie begins in 1936 when the pair meet for the first time in a chance encounter in a Key West bar in Florida.
They encounter each other again a year later in Spain, while both are covering the Spanish Civil War, and staying in the same hotel on the same floor. Initially, Gellhorn resists romantic advances made by the famous author, but during a bombing raid, the two find themselves trapped alone in the same room, and lust overcomes them. They become lovers, and stay in Spain until 1939. Hemingway collaborates with Joris Ivens to produce The Spanish Earth.
In 1940 Hemingway divorces his second wife so that he and Gellhorn can be married. He credits her with having inspired him to write the novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and dedicates the work to her.
Over time, however, Gellhorn becomes more prominent in her own right, leading to certain career jealousies between the two. Gellhorn leaves Hemingway to go to Finland to cover the Winter War by herself. When she return to the Lookout Farm in Havana, Hemingway tells her that he has divorced Pauline.
The two marry and, together, travel to China to cover the bombing attacks by Japan. In China, they interview Chiang Kai-shek and his spouse. Gellhorn is horrified after visiting an opium den. Chiang Kai-shek is fighting the Chinese Communists and Japanese invaders. The two secretly visit Zhou Enlai. Gellhorn covered D-Day in Normandy. She reported on the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps.
Lastly, in 1945, Gellhorn became the only one of Hemingway's four wives to ask him for a divorce.
Pat Jackson, the film's sound effects editor, said that the biggest challenge in doing sound for the film was "making the archival footage and the live-action footage shot locally appear seamless."
The film received mixed reviews with much praise going for Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Martha Gellhorn. Mark Rozeman of Paste commented "In terms of the acting, there’s little room for complaint. At 45, Kidman remains a fetching and powerful screen presence. Here, she captures Gellhorn’s idealistic, gung-ho leftism without making herself sound overly self-righteous" but was less positive about Clive Owen's role as Ernest Hemingway stating "While Owen easily embodies Hemingway’s extraordinary charisma (and certainly his legendary temper), his performance is often undermined by the British actor’s inability to hold his American accent." Jeremy Heilman of MovieMartyr.com agreed with Roseman's opinions stating "Kidman is strong here as Martha Gellhorn, using her exceptional figure and old-fashioned movie star glamour to full effect" and that Owen's performance was "inconsistent, goofy one moment and strongly seductive the next." Todd McCarthy of TheHollywoodReporter.com said of Kidman "Kidman is terrific in certain scenes and merely very good in others; there are a few too many moments of her traipsing around Spain, blond hair flying glamorously, not knowing quite what she’s doing there. But for the most part, she rivets one’s attention, lifting the entire enterprise by her presence.
The New York Times panned the film, characterizing it as "a disheartening misfire: a big, bland historical melodrama built on platitudes about honor and the writing life that crams in actual figures and incidents but does little to illuminate them, or to make us care about the romance at its center." In a similar vein Vanity Fair observed that "none of the reviews quite prepared me for the unchained malady of Hemingway & Gellhorn." Of the director they say "it’s as if Kaufman answered the call of wild and it turned out to be a loon." The Huffington Post described it as "a gigantic missed opportunity, a jaw-droppingly trying waste of time. Don't let the fancy names in the cast fool you: This is a stupid, stupid movie." Review site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 50% on the Tomatometer with an average rating of 4.7/10, based on 8 reviews.