A Private War (2018)

Rosamund Pike in Matthew Heineman’s A Private War is a perfect incarnation of the legendarily fearless war reporter Marie Colvin.

There's No Place Like Homs

by Alexa Dalby

A Private War

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Pike perfectly has Colvin’s stance, her whisky-and-cigarettes voice and her implacable pursuit of the heart of the action. A Private War recreates the last few years of her life starting and ending in Iraq. It shows the exploits that cost her an eye in Sri Lanka and resulted in her boldly worn, iconic eye patch, but mainly it concentrates on her last days in Homs with photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan). He survived the shelling that destroyed the building she was broadcasting from: she didn’t.

Colvin seemed driven to report what she saw as the truth and to go to places where other correspondents feared to tread. A Private War posits that this almost-obsession was at great psychological as well as physical risk. Though she was a charismatic star in the cocktail parties of her London home (with husband Greg Wise) as much as in the international media (Sunday Times editor Tom Hollander), she was at the same time self-medicating with alcohol for the PTSD inflicted by the dangerous situations and unacknowledged traumas she had experienced.

Pike is unarguably great as Colvin. Director Matthew Heineman is a documentary filmmaker and his A Private War is a sturdy chronicle of Colvin’s fearless life of speaking truth to power and that’s only to be admired because of the unthinkable risks she herself took in order to do so. She was drawn to danger zones and that was how she chose to live her life.

More than ever today we need people like Colvin who are prepared to do battle against fake news. Yet in doing so she also pressured others to take the same daring risks as herself, sometimes at huge personal cost. Ex-soldier Conroy survived to tell the tale but some people carried along in Colvin’s wake risked their lives as well and were not so lucky, and this needs to be remembered too.

A Private War screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 15 February 2019 in the UK.

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