New Movie about “Lady Hay” and the Graf Zeppelin: “Farewell”

by Dan Grossman on December 16, 2009

A new film about Lady Grace Drummond Hay (biography) and the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin premiered on November 22, 2009, at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.   The film “Farewell” is composed entirely of archival footage with narration based on the writings of Hearst reporter Lady Drummond Hay, and tells the story of Graf Zeppelin’s Round-the-World flight of 1929.  The film was produced in the Netherlands by Pieter van Huystee and directed by Ditteke Mensink, based on research by Gerard Nijssen.

According to the filmmaker:

“Farewell tells the story of Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, the only female passenger on the first journey around the world of the Graf Zeppelin in 1929.  Grace writes about her adventures on the journey, not only in articles in the Hearst Newspapers, as a reporter, but also in her diary. Traveling high in the sky, up over a world, in a way she has never experienced before, Grace changes. Her former lover Karl von Wiegand is amongst the other passengers. During her long voyage their love is once again tested. When the Zeppelin finally flies over New York Grace says goodbye to Karl and the lovers lose touch. Landing in New York she is welcomed like a cinema star.  In 1929 people were convinced this journey would be a splendid turning point in history. A few weeks later Wall Street crashed and a dark period in history began.”

Reviews have praised the film’s beautiful use of archival footage of the Graf Zeppelin itself and scenery filmed during its flights, and its skillful use of narration and editing to tell a romantic, if somewhat fictionalized, story of the relationship between Grace Drummond Hay and Karl von Wiegand.

Movie Poster for FarewellFact vs. Fiction

While the filmmakers call the production a documentary, it is actually a mixture of fact and fiction “inspired” by a true story.  The narration by actress Poppy Elliot, as the voice of Lady Drummond Hay, was largely written by director Ditteke Mensink, and certain events were dramatized and fictionalized.

The film depicts Hay and von Wiegand “losing touch” after the 1929 flight, but in fact the couple remained close companions for the rest of their lives.  They traveled together on the Dornier Do X flying boat in November, 1930, and on the maiden voyage of the airship Hindenburg from Germany to America in 1936.  Lady Drummond-Hay and von Wiegand were together in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942, and both were interned in a Japanese prison camp.

Other historical liberties were also taken by the director:

The film depicts the Graf Zeppelin being lost over the Pacific for two days on its flight from Japan to the United States, during which time the airship was out of radio contact and had to land on the water to repair damage to one of its fins.  In fact, the ship covered the 9,653 km between Tokyo and Los Angeles in just a little more than 3 days (79:03 hours), and its average speed of 122 km/hr made this leg was one of the fastest trips of the Graf Zeppelin’s career.  The repair of the stabilizer was based on a real episode, but it occurred during the ship’s first transatlantic flight in 1928, and the ship did not, of course, land on the rough ocean to conduct the repair, which was performed inflight.  (Graf Zeppelin could land on the water, but only on calm lakes and protected inlets, and not in mid-ocean.)

Lady Grace Drummond Hay and Karl von Wiegand aboard Dornier DO-X flying boat

Lady Grace Drummond Hay and Karl von Wiegand aboard Dornier DO-X flying boat (click to enlarge)

The film footage does not always match the plot, and some scenes supposed to depict the Graf Zeppelin actually show a United States Navy dirigible, complete with U.S. Navy sailors and officers in uniform.  One scene supposed to show Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1929 actually shows Friedrichshafen, Germany with the airship Hindenburg in the background; the Hindenburg was not built until 7 years later.

The film even takes liberties with the name of its main character, referring to her as “Lady Hay” in promotional materials, although she was never known as Lady Hay in real life.  As the widow of Sir Robert Hay Drummond-Hay, she was known as Lady Drummond Hay, or Lady Hay Drummond-Hay.

But in spite of its few historical inaccuracies, which can be justified in the interest of poetic license, Farewell is a critically acclaimed film which will bring renewed attention to the history of the Graf Zeppelin, and its archival footage is sure to delight airship fans around the world.

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