1936: Ernest Hemingway [Clive Owen] falls under the spell of the beautiful novelist and assured magazine writer Martha Gellhorn [Nicole Kidman] when he first meets her in Sloppy Joe’s, a bar in Key West, Fla. They meet again in Spain, when she persuades a friend at Collier’s Weekly to give her credentials as a special correspondent, covering the Spanish Civil War and the attempt by Franco and the Fascists, with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, to overthrow the democratically elected government. Hemingway has left behind his wife, Pauline [Molly Parker], and their two sons in Key West and has come to Spain to help his friends Joris Ivens [Lars Ulrich], John Dos Passos [David Strathairn] and Robert Capa [Santiago Cabrera] shoot the documentary “The Spanish Earth,” about the struggle to defeat Fascism. Gellhorn joins them.
Hemingway watches over and tutors Gellhorn, as the fledgling reporter discovers her voice and learns from him the essence of the Hemingway code of behavior: honor, courage, bravery and endurance in a life of stress, misfortune and pain. In short, grace under pressure. To Hemingway, having these qualities makes a man become a man and proves his worth. Gellhorn comes to embody these principles, perhaps even outdoing Hemingway. In a crucial situation where Gellhorn evidences her heroism, Hemingway is prompted to say, “She is the bravest woman I ever saw.”
Back from the war, Hemingway and Gellhorn settle in Cuba, where she finds the run-down villa Finca Vigia. There they begin a new life together.