A new film about Lady Grace Drummond Hay and the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin premiered on November 22, 2009. 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.
A work of fiction, not a documentary
The filmmakers call the production a documentary but it is a work of fiction. Events were highly dramatized or completely fictional, and the narration by actress Poppy Elliot, as the voice of Lady Grace Drummond Hay, was not taken from a diary but largely written by director Ditteke Mensink.
The director took many historical liberties in the film:
- The film depicts 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 ship was never lost or even delayed during the flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles (at an average speed of 122 km/h, the airship covered the 9,653 km between Tokyo and Los Angeles in 79:03 hours — little more than 3 days — making it one of the fastest flights of Graf Zeppelin’s career), and while the stabilizer repair is based on a real episode, that incident occurred during the ship’s first transatlantic flight in 1928 and not the Round-the-World flight, and the airship did not land on the rough ocean to conduct the repair: Graf Zeppelin could land on water only on calm lakes or protected inlets and the 1928 fin repair was performed in-flight.
- The film includes footage of Graf Zeppelin stowaway Clarence Terhune, but he was not aboard the 1929 Round-the-World flight. Terhune 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 Karl von Wiegand “losing touch” after the 1929 flight, but the couple remained 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 they were together in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942: Lady Drummond-Hay and von Wiegand were interned in a Japanese prison camp.
The film’s footage also does not always match the plot or narration. One scene claims to show Lakehurst in 1929 but actually shows Friedrichshafen, Germany in 1936: the airship Hindenburg can be seen in the background. Most bizarrely, scenes that are supposed to depict the German Graf Zeppelin actually show an American Navy dirigible, complete with U.S. Navy sailors in white “dixie cup” sailor hats and American naval officers in uniform.
The film even takes a small liberty with the name of its main character: it refers to her as “Lady Hay” in promotional materials, but as the widow of Sir Robert Hay Drummond-Hay she was always known as Lady Drummond Hay or Lady Hay Drummond-Hay.
But when viewed as a work of fiction, and not a documentary, the film is beautiful and enjoyable. It makes great use of archival footage to tell a romantic if fictionalized story of the relationship between Grace Drummond Hay and Karl von Wiegand.
Don’t watch “Farewell” thinking it is a documentary, but do watch the film. If you love airships, you will be glad you did.