Reporter Ernest Hemingway is an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. While bravely risking his life in the line of duty, he is injured and ends up in the hospital, where he falls in love with his nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.
Richard Attenborough's films have alternated between the quirky (A Chorus Line), the worthy (Cry Freedom and Shadowlands) and the ill-conceived (Chaplin). In Love And War, while not entirely without its merits, falls somewhere between the last two. Based in part on fact and set in Italy during the last year of World War I, the movie relates the clandestine love affair between the young Ernest Hemingway and Agnes Von Kurowsky, a nurse eight years his senior.
As played by O'Donnell, the young Hemingway is a brash, callow youth who soon finds himself bored by his duties with the American Red Cross. Eager to get a taste of the real war, he heads for the trenches but is almost immediately wounded in an attack. In hospital he meets Agnes (Bullock), with whom he begins a cautious romance. But Hemingway has a rival, the surgeon who operated on him, and faced with a choice between an intense and immature teenager or a rich and sophisticated doctor, and with the war drawing to a close, Agnes has to make a quick and painful decision.
This period of Hemingway's life subsequently inspired A Farewell To Arms, and there's little doubt that his experiences in Italy had a profound effect on him, although the action is never quite as gripping as it could have been. There are effective moments in the film (most notably the attack in which Hemingway is injured) but overall it's a curiously static affair and it fails to generate the passion that Hemingway and Von Kurowsky obviously felt for each other.
Bullock makes for a charming but somewhat subdued Agnes, much of her natural spark buried beneath the period costume, while O'Donnell, who has no problem capturing Hemingway's exuberance, is less confident when it comes to delivering the range that was also a part of his make-up.
Ultimately, In Love And War lacks a solid centre but the affecting, curiously innocent chemistry between the two leads, shamelessly soppy script and pretty, soft-focus backdrops, make this passable enough for the hopeless romantics among us.