TBT: In Love and War (1996)

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I have no idea why I was inspired to rewatch In Love and War, the 1996 film starring Chris O’Donnell as Earnest Hemingway and Sandra Bullock as the real-life nurse who he fell in love with during World War I — but I did. According to my short review from back in the day, the movie is HIGHLY cheesy but I loved the late teens costumes. This time around, I only made it through half the movie before giving up because it was that cheesy!

While neither actor is terrible in their role, they’re both TOO suited to their roles — O’Donnell is all sparkly smiles as a young, brash Hemingway; Bullock is all practical and no-nonsense as Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky. It’s weird, because the movie was directed by the famed Richard Attenborough, but no dice. Every thing about this feels like a Hallmark Hall of Fame production!

The costumes WERE very well done, but I think I must have been new to or starved for this period when I first watched this, because while I still liked them and thought they were nearly spot on for 1918-19, the characters, the setting, etc., they didn’t blow me away — and no, I’m not looking to this movie for fancy over the top, but for practical, real-life clothing. Nonetheless, let’s give costume designer Penny Rose (Evita, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur) a shout-out for really doing the research and making costumes that truly felt and looked like clothing.

According to the online newspaper of the Johns Hopkins University, Rose consulted heavily with Jean Waldman, a full-time volunteer historian with the Red Cross, who ended up being an on-set historical consultant. The filmmakers wanted to know,

“How were bandages rolled? What did the famous nursing cape look like? What was the design for the rolling canteen? ‘I found the original patterns for nursing uniforms. I found the pattern for the nurses’ capes. I even found specifications for ambulances and the rolling canteens’… It was Attenborough’s intention–and Waldman’s job–to make the movie as period-authentic as possible. On the set, Waldman was asked to answer questions, offer opinions and call attention to any facets of the filming that struck her as historically out of place” (On Nursing: Hopkins Nursing In “Love And War”).

Compare the uniforms worn by the real-life von Kurowsky:

Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan, Hemingway Foundation

Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan, Hemingway Foundation

Earnest Hemingway with Agnes von Kurowsky to his right in Milan 1918, via Steve Newman Writer

Earnest Hemingway with Agnes von Kurowsky to his right in Milan 1918, via Steve Newman Writer

With those shown on screen:

1996 In Love and War 1996 In Love and War

The rest of Bullock’s practical, everyday wardrobe looked straight out of period catalogs. Compare:

Eaton's Spring & Summer 1917 Catalog

Eaton’s Spring & Summer 1917 Catalog via Pinterest

1996 In Love and War

Another uniform?

1996 In Love and War

Off duty blouse and skirt.

1996 In Love and War

Love the hat shape, the stripes, and the wide collar.

1996 In Love and War
1996 In Love and War

After the war, so 1919ish.

1996 In Love and War

Ditto.

Probably the standout costume is this peach day dress:

1996 In Love and War 1996 In Love and War

That square collar and tunic overskirt are again straight out of the period:

The People’s Home Journal, 1918.

New Idea Quarterly – Summer 1918

New Idea Quarterly – Summer 1918. Via Pinterest.

This costume has been exhibited as part of the Cut! Costume and Cinema traveling exhibition featuring costumes made by Cosprop, one of the big costume houses in London. According to a review of the exhibit,

“The costume designer [Penny Rose] purposefully chose the color of the dress to stand out from the dull colors of war in the film” (Fashion history and Hollywood combine in new exhibit at The History Museum).

1996 In Love and War

Thanks to Susan Lenz for these detail photos.

1996 In Love and War

Check out her blog for detail shots of other costumes in the exhibition!

The hat worn with this ensemble is REALLY great:

1996 In Love and War

Both the shape, and all that ribbonwork trim!

1996 In Love and War

Bullock’s character is also courted by a SUPER HOT Italian doctor who comes from money, so there are a few fancy costumes — none of which are on screen for more than a hot second. She wears a dinner dress that goes by super fast/is only shot from the shoulders up, and this ball gown:

1996 In Love and War
1996 In Love and War

The hair seems very bridal.

1996 In Love and War

And while the tunic overdress effect is very period, what’s with the vaginal skirt drapings on the underskirt?

So, probably spare yourself from watching this film unless these pictures REALLY inspire you, or you’re REALLY feeling the Hallmark vibe!

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

4 Responses

  1. Constance

    I never knew this about Hemingway, now I dislike it even more. He is one of the “greats” I strongly dislike, both in his writing and person. But I mix this up with another terrible movie or miniseries that contains a young Courtney Cox as an obnoxious rich girl who flies planes and loves a much older man?

    Reply
  2. Charity

    I saw this once and that was enough. I found it depressing. Looking at the photos, I’m getting the impression that Sandra just isn’t meant for period pieces. Something about her features screams modern girl.

    Reply
  3. Popka Superstar

    I don’t like Hemingway at all, but these costumes do look almost exactly spot on. Like, you’d think that peach dress was period if you found it in a charity shop, except that it is kind of underdecorated for the period. I feel like in period, you’d have a bit of embroidery or lace on the collar parts. You get a lot of rick rack and things like that. But great, even so.

    Reply
  4. SarahH

    I used to have a seething all-consuming crush on Chris O’Donnell, I am not ashamed to say.

    Reply

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