The film “Farewell” is composed entirely of archival footage and claims to 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.
A work of fiction, not a documentary
While the filmmakers call the production a documentary it is actually a work of fiction “inspired” by a true story. The narration, by actress Poppy Elliot as the voice of Lady Drummond Hay, was not taken from a diary but largely written by director Ditteke Mensink, and certain events were dramatized and fictionalized.
Many historical liberties were taken by the director. The film depicts the Graf Zeppelin 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. The repair of the stabilizer was based on a real episode, but that incident occurred during the ship’s first transatlantic flight in 1928. And the airship did not land on the rough ocean to conduct the repair; Graf Zeppelin could land on the water, but only on calm lakes and protected inlets and not in mid-ocean, and the 1928 fin repair was performed inflight. Nor was the ship lost or even delayed during the flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles: at an average speed of 122 km/h this leg was one of the fastest trips of the Graf Zeppelin’s career. (The airship covered the 9,653 km between Tokyo and Los Angeles in 79:03 hours, just little more than 3 days.)
The film also includes footage of Graf Zeppelin stowaway Clarence Terhune, but he was not aboard the 1929 Round-the-World flight; he snuck aboard the return leg of Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight to the United States, flying from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Friedrichshafen, Germany in 1928.
The film depicts Hay and von Wiegand “losing touch” after the 1929 flight but in fact the couple remained close and intimate 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, and Lady Drummond-Hay and von Wiegand were together in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942; both were interned in a Japanese prison camp.
The film’s footage does not always match the plot. One scene that claims to show Lakehurst in 1929 actually shows Friedrichshafen, Germany in 1936; the airship Hindenburg is in the background. Most bizarrely, some scenes that are supposed to depict the Graf Zeppelin actually show a United States Navy dirigible, complete with U.S. Navy sailors in white “dixie cup” sailor hats and American naval officers in uniform.
The film even takes liberties with the name of its main character; it refers 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 sometimes Lady Hay Drummond-Hay.
But in spite of its historical inaccuracies, taken 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.