Hemingway, the latest PBS documentary series from Ken Burns and company, has several names attached who have become a sort of repertory group. Lynn Novick, Burns' frequent co-director, is back. So is writer Geoffrey C. Ward, who helped make Burns a PBS phenomenon with the landmark non-fiction mini-series The Civil War. And the narrator, who has lent his voice to so many past productions, is Peter Coyote.
As always, Coyote calmly and clearly sets the table for everything to come—and why you might be interested. "The world saw him as a man's man," Coyote says, to quote one early example. "But all his life, he would privately be intrigued by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women. There were so many sides to him, the first of his four wives remembered, that he defied geometry."
In this new Hemingway documentary, the women around the author are as illuminating as the author himself. Each of his four wives has something revelatory to say—and these spouses are given voice by a quartet of wonderful actresses, who bring the women's private letters and other writings to vivid life.
Meryl Streep has the meatiest part as war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife. Her dispatches during the Normandy invasion rivaled, and arguably exceeded, his own. But the other wives are given voice by Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkson. And Jeff Daniels supplies the voice of Ernest Hemingway, reading from his private letters as well as his published short stories and other writings.