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Battling demons in A Private War

Deeply moving story of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who lost her life in Syrian conflict, is no ordinary biopic

14 February, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Rosamund Pike as Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War

A PRIVATE WAR
Directed by Matthew Heineman
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

PLEASE, before you watch this film and get wrapped up in the incredibly tragic story of journalist Marie Colvin, pause and remember those she wrote about

You cannot help but think that is what she would have wanted – her life story to be used to again make us look at the suffering the human race inflicts on its own.

Marie was the outstanding war correspondent for the Sunday Times who lost her life when she was in the Syrian town of Homs in 2012. President Assad’s troops deliberately targeted a makeshift media centre she and other journalists were using, resulting in her own and others’ murder.

But those she wrote about are the key to this film, and they are real people.

Based on an article in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner, which came out a few months after her murder in February 2012, this is no ordinary biopic. Instead it is a deeply moving consideration of the concept of bearing witness.

Colvin went to Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – and gathered testimony of the crimes inflicted on civilians.

Rosamund Pike, taking on the role of her life, creates an image of a woman who suffered because of her work, and also lived for it. Brilliant, fearless, compassion running through her being, she was also a risk-taker and driven to self-destructive acts, both professionally and personally. This film asks how one affected the other.

We learn little of Marie’s early life, but pick up her story as she globe-trots, breaking stories, swanning through the Sunday Times newsroom like a word­smithing crusader slashing at despots with a trusty sword of truth, and writing history as it is freshly made. It is telling in one scene-setting moment that she passes Martha Gellhorn’s book, The Face of War – which recounts Gellhorn’s experiences in places such as the Russo-Finnish conflict and the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s – to a younger colleague and tells her to read it.

Like Colvin, Gellhorn was an American who settled in England and is remembered for her astute reporting and bravery. The comparisons are obvious.

Her photographer partner Paul Conroy, played by Jamie Dornan, along with a cast of that includes Tom Hollander as Sunday Times foreign editor Sean Ryan, try to help her through the post-traumatic stress she suffers, and understand why she continues to put herself in danger to help those who are in conflict zones.

Pike is superb – she offers gravitas in a hard role to play, and ably brings alive the horror of what Marie went through.

This biopic comes soon after the heartbreaking documentary, Under The Wire. But A Private War adds another layer of understanding to her motivation to put herself in danger, by using a feature director’s eye to reveal a tragic personal story against the backdrop of a tragic, shared story.

It will make you think about aggression, pacifism, our eternal battles with each other over power and resources. It will also remind you that those who profit from the sale of arms – an industry the UK is ashamedly heavily involved in – should not be able to sleep at night, as well as those who use them.

It is sobering to think Marie will not be resting in peace, as the conflicts where she so desperately tried to tell the people’s stories still rage.

What a bloodthirsty, unpleasant species humans are.

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