A Private War review – harrowing yet inspiring portrait of the life and work of Marie Colvin

Rosamund Pike’s new role as renowned war correspondent Marie Colvin offers viewers a harrowing yet inspiring portrait of the life and work of one of this era’s central journalistic voices on conflict, writes Charlie Bowden.

A Private War prevails despite sometimes veering into basic dialogue that tells, rather than shows, the importance and courage of Colvin’s work as a brave and necessary voice in exposing conflict around the globe. Her foreign editor Sean Ryan (played by Tom Hollander), at one point explains “If you lose your conviction Marie, then what hope do the rest of us have?”. It is overly padded screenplay like this that risks the overall quality of the movie. Despite this Mathew Heineman’s drama directorial debut is greatly helped by Rosamund Pike’s powerful and moving display of Colvin, mimicking her movement, voice and character expertly.

The film is taken over an 11-year time frame of Colvin’s life. This takes the audience from her Sri Lanka assignment in 2001, involving the incident that resulted in her losing her left eye, to her death in 2012 from Syrian Army shelling in Homs. On balance the movie does do justice to the work of Colvin whose stories on Syria brought the conflict into the public consciousness which to date has seen the deaths of 500,000 Syrian people. The price of such reporting is told in personal terms throughout the film, showcasing the psychological trauma inflicted on Colvin as she comes to grips with her experience and relentless pursuit of the story, “I hate being in a war zone but I feel compelled to see it for myself”. The movie doesn’t mince its words around conflict, its characters and its enduring effect on lives, showcasing intimately the post-traumatic stress disorder of Colvin and the hardship and death that she bore witness to across her career as a foreign correspondent. 

Paul Conroy (played by Jamie Dornan), the photographer present when Colvin and Remi Ochlik were murdered in the shelling of a makeshift media centre in the city of Homs in 2012, testified to the quality of the depiction of Colvin and the events that occurred in a live Q+A at a pre-release screening of the film. Pike told the audience how journalists are entrusted with “a little piece of their life” and told to take care of it and share it with the world when working with victims in conflict zones. It was Colvin who tirelessly exposed the injustice present in conflict zones and whose desire to do so ultimately cost her life. Director, Matthew Heineman, touched on the film’s role in acting as a “ringing reminder that this is still happening” in the world today.

The value of the picture is in its portrayal of the brave and necessary reporting of Colvin and her passion for truth in a world of conflict; the addition of Dornan and Pike to help tell this story is likely to draw a wider audience to the necessity of press freedom at a time when a voice of truth such as Colvin’s is needed now more than ever. This fact alone makes it a triumph.

A Private War goes on general release on 15th February 2019.

Charlie Bowden