PBS’ Complicated ‘Hemingway’

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick present Hemingway, a six-hour documentary about the legendary American writer, starting today, April 5, on PBS (check local listings for channel and time in your area), and on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel

Hemingway will air as three two-hour episodes today through Wednesday.

PBS Documentaries will then stream a 4K version beginning Sunday, April 11.

Narrated by long-time Burns collaborator Peter Coyote (Country Music, The Vietnam War), the film takes on its complex subject via interviews with writers, scholars and Hemingway’s son Patrick.  Reading from Hemingway’s intimate back-and-forth correspondence with his four wives, actors Jeff Daniels, Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louis Parker and Patricia Clarkson help vivify the author’s closest relationships and inner world.

Hemingway also explores the creative process that led to such novels as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, as well as short stories and non-fiction books that include A Moveable Feast. Hemingway’s mother, sister, wives and one great love — a World War I nurse who broke his heart — profoundly influenced his writings.

The writer, renowned for his live-for-today machismo and prejudices, had a sensitive, troubled side, the filmmakers reveal. Once a rising star, he suffered a precipitous decline that resulted from chronic alcoholism, serious mental illness, traumatic brain injuries and depression. In 1961, at the age of 61, he committed suicide.

“The documentary attempts to show how flawed our assumptions about Ernest Hemingway and his writing have been,” Burns said. “At the same time, we are unsparing in our inquiry into less well-known aspects of his character and writing.”

“In an era when Americans are re-evaluating so many icons, Hemingway is a particularly compelling figure to revisit,” said Novick. “He was hugely complicated, deeply flawed, and he truly revolutionized the art of writing.”

Hemingway was written by Geoffrey C. Ward and produced by Sarah Botstein, both also long-time Burns and Novick collaborators.

Amazon Prime and Prime Video subscribers can get PBS Documentaries for an additional $3.99 a month following a seven-day free trial. 

An Amazon Prime membership costs $12.99 month/$119 annually and includes the streaming service, free shipping and other benefits. An Amazon Video membership costs $8.99 a month just for the streamer. For more information, visit Amazon.

(Top image source: PBS)

About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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