There's nothing wrong with love stories, especially love stories set against the backdrop of bloody conflict - look at Casablanca. There's nothing wrong with dramas about the early life of someone who went on to be famous, either, especially if they illuminate what happens later - Attenborough's own Young Winston (1972) managed to paint a convincing portrait of a man simultaneously brilliant and awful, without letting up on action and incident.
Unfortunately, In Love And War doesn't work as either love story or biopic - it centres on a slight, going-nowhere affair, and it tells us very little about Hemingway "The Man". Of course, Ernie would go on to become one of America's greatest writers, and have hundreds of well-publicised love affairs. But this is the young Hemingway, a fresh-faced, over-enthusiastic kid (played by a fresh-faced, over-enthusiastic kid) who falls for a woman eight years his senior. His dalliance with Agnes Von Kurowsky (Bullock) is far from passionate - he fancies her, and she slowly grows to like him, but she's too bright to let things get serious. He's just a kid, she's a professional and there's a war on, for heaven's sake.
Visually, In Love And War is everything you'd expect from Sir Dick - sweeping landscapes, impressively mounted set-pieces, and extras by the coach load. This is a big story in all but heart. Bullock and O'Donnell, though watchable and pleasant, seem unsure what they're meant to be doing. Neither is all that comfortable in his role, and both seem uncertain as to what the film is trying to say. The inevitable outcome is that we, the audience, get little of the man's arrogance, or his posturing, or his genius. Instead, the whole thing is something of a non-event. It's certainly no Shadowlands (Attenborough's earlier, triumphant "horny author" tale), that's for sure.
A worthy, well-made, old-fashioned weepie, but with very little meat on its bones. Even die-hard Hemingway fans will be wondering what the point of it is.