A Private War
20th October 2018 8.40pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
Some careers can be considered less stressful than others, with the desk life being a more suitable occupation following a regular commute. For Marie Colvin, nothing was more addictive than the battlefield; her office changed shape daily due to air strikes, and her main companions consisted of little more than a laptop, helmet and a bulletproof vest. She took pride in capturing the stories of the people trapped in the conflict rather than the events of the wars themselves. It was this craving that took her to some of the most dangerous corners of the earth and led her to her ultimately making the final sacrifice – albeit eleven years after having lost her left eye field reporting in Sri Lanka, resulting in her trademark eyepatch.
One of the most prolific foreign correspondents that journalism has ever witnessed, Colvin was willing to risk it all in order to tell the world the truth behind every foreign war, regardless of whether her physical and mental health took a hit in the process. This is her story; A Private War is director Matthew Heineman’s tribute.
The film follows the events leading up to and during the major international conflicts from which Marie (Rosamund Pike) reported for The Times, wars that would change her life and leave deep scars, both visible and buried within. Rarely seen without a cigarette pursed between her lips, Colvin battles with what the title clearly reflects: the internal, psychological struggles of experiencing the gruesome realities of modern warfare. Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers is not uncommon due to the distressing experiences they have to endure, yet it isn’t only those fighters on the front line that come face to face with the bloody reality of hostile international relations.
After losing the sight in one eye whilst out reporting on the Sri Lankan Civil War, Colvin struggles to manage her workload whilst suffering with immense anxiety from previous traumas in foreign territory. Following her work with photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) in Iraq (2003), Afghanistan (2009), Libya (2011) and finally Syria (2012), we see the protagonist tossed selflessly into the heart of diplomatic bloodshed, chin wagging one moment with Colonel Gaddafi, standing over his corpse the next, all the while fighting her own more internal psychological war, completely unaided. Finding respite through alcohol and later lover Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci), Colvin is repeatedly drawn back to the centre of conflict by her own volition in an attempt to clarify the human cost of war, but as she persists in finding solace for the victims, it is not the lives of others for whom the bell begins to toll.
The success of the film undeniably rests in the hands of Pike, who takes on the scrupulous task of embodying the famed civil war journalist, from her appearance, to her mannerisms, to her voice. Unsurprisingly, the lead actress knocks it out of the park, becoming Colvin in a powerfully haunting performance that will, without a doubt, be up for awards nomination consideration. In arguably one of her best roles to date, Pike works the dialogue of each scene to her advantage, carrying a script that despite some small plot foibles, packs a devastating punch thanks to the reality of its context and stunning, authentic cinematography that wraps the audience in an immersive blanket for two hours – with every pair of eyes transfixed and transported into the same surroundings as the subject.
Although some supporting characters could have been given greater screen time given their status in the film, Pike and co-star Dornan bring home a picture that aims not only to entertain but to act as a remembrance of what a dedicated and courageous journalist Colvin was in the face of the gravest of dangers. She could not be deterred. She always wanted to tell other people’s stories but couldn’t verbalise her own. Now, with A Private War, Heinemann has created a biopic and tribute to be proud of.
A Private War does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for A Private War here: