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IN LOVE AND WAR - LOVE, WAR, PROMISES

Hemingway, colossus of modern literature, may have never happened if he hadnít been shot half to death in the first world war. The wound led him to his greatest love. NICK RODDICK reports how Richard Attenborough approached In Love and War, the film adapted from the novel Hemingway wrote in the wake of his great pain and greatest love, and of the secret promise Attenborough made to his leading lady, Sandra Bullock.

In the summer of 1918, a callow, bumptious youth called Ernest Hemingway arrived in Italy looking for adventure. He was one year older than the century. By the time he went home he, like the century, was much, much older, permanently scarred by the experience of the war and of a tragic love affair.

He immortalised it in one of the century's great novels, A Farewell to Arms, in which the hero, Frederic, falls in love with a nurse called Catherine Barkley, who dies giving birth to their stillborn child. For Hemingway himself, the woman whose love changed his life - and changed the course of modern literature - was called Agnes von Kurowsky.

She, too, was a nurse (with the Red Cross) and, despite her name, was American, raised in Pennsylvania, with a German father and an American mother. But, unlike Catherine, Agnes was some eight years older than Hemingway, whom she called 'Kid'. And, although she was supposed to follow him back to America after the war, she never did.

"He told all his wives that they were sort of shadows or stand-ins for Agnes," Richard Attenborough on Hemingway

And Hemingway never forgot. "He told all his wives that they were sort of shadows or stand-ins for Agnes," noted Richard Attenborough, shortly after putting the finishing touches to the opening titles of In Love and War, the sweeping romantic drama he shot in Northern Italy - at Vittorio Veneto, at the base of the Dolomites, and in Venice itself - and at Shepperton Studios in London. "He actually told his first wife that on the night of their wedding - having insisted that Agnes be invited to the ceremony!" Not that Attenborough is committing himself to the idea that, for Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms, read the real-life Agnes von Kurowsky.

"I found it irresistible"

"The novel is not based on the events," he says. "That's untrue. But it does emanate from the extraordinary love-affair that Hemingway had over a four-month period. And I found it irresistible." Based on the 1989 book, Ernest Hemingway: In Love and War, by Henry Villard, a wartime friend of the writer who had kept up contact with Agnes, the film tells the story of that love affair, which began when Ernie Hemingway (played in the movie by Chris O'Donnell), eager to see a little action, volunteers to drive an ambulance to the front.

When a mortar shell lands nearby, Hemingway heroically carries the only other survivor to safety, but is hit in the leg by machine-gun fire in the process. It is in hospital that he meets Agnes von Kurowsky (Sandra Bullock), who is instrumental in persuading the surgeon not to amputate the wounded leg, but to try instead a revolutionary form of irrigation treatment. It saves the 'Kid's' leg, and launches a relationship into which Ernie charges headlong, while Agnes - partly put off by the young American's arrogance, partly aware of the (in 1918 terms) huge age difference between them - holds back.

"Would he have had the same bile and the same turmoil and passion if he'd married Agnes and had had seven children?"

"What is fascinating," says Attenborough, "is: What would have happened if his guts hadn't been torn out at the age of 19? Would he have been the same writer? Would he have had the same bile and the same turmoil and passion if he'd married Agnes and had had seven children?"

The focus of In Love and War, however, is not that particular version of 'what if?' The film is not so much about the future writer as about a passionate, troubled affair between two very real, three-dimensional young Americans in a conflict situation.

"The film confirms our perception of him"

All the same, it is hard to lose sight of the future genius, reckons Attenborough. "The film confirms our perception of him," he says. "It confirms his arrogance, it confirms his courage, it confirms his egotism, it confirms his sense of humour and his total inability to forgive anybody or to condone anything that does not go totally his way." It also confirms the hitherto unrecognised depth of Sandra Bullock's acting skills.

"She was a personality movie star" Attenborough on Sandra Bullock

"I'd seen her in several movies and I believed that nobody had, in fact, challenged her to present a three-dimensional character. She was hardly ever asked to perform - to play, to act. She was a personality movie star." So the director flew to Bullock's home town of Washington, DC, and persuaded her over dinner at Thanksgiving, 1995. "

At the end of dinner, she said: 'Look, I would love to do this. I don't need to see the screenplay. If it's as you want it to be, that's fine by me. But you have to make me one promise. You have to swear that you will remove the Sandra Bullock that everybody expects to see from the movie!' So that was the deal."

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"The film is not so much about the future writer as about a passionate, troubled affair between two very real, three-dimensional young Americans in a conflict situation."

"What would have happened if his guts hadn't been torn out at the age of 19? Would he have been the same writer?"







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