A Private War

‘This is the rough draft of history, you have to find the truth in it.’

To be a war correspondent is to run toward the screams whilst others are running away from them. It’s to give a voice to those who have been forced into silence or have previously been unable to find their own. It’s to find some semblance of meaning when it feels most impossible. Marie Colvin was one of the most recognisable war correspondents in modern history; a woman who was as comfortable at a high society gathering armed with a martini as she was in a war-zone.

From 1985 until her death in 2012 she worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times, reporting on true horrors. The film paints her as the deeply complex woman those who knew her describe. She was noble and good, desperate to help those she could in the only way she knew how, yet deeply flawed and damaged by the things she had seen. She put herself into extreme danger to bring us the truth, losing her life in the process.

One of the ‘problems’ that can occur in true life dramas or biopics, particularly those involving recent history, is the fact we already know – to some extent at least – what happens. A Private War embraces that fact, picking up on Marie in 2001 with a date stamp that acknowledges Homs (the siege Marie was covering when she died) is 11 years away. The reminder serves to provide a grim sense of inevitability and an uncomfortable feeling of dramatic irony. We know that with each conflict depicted we are getting closer to the one that killed her, yet this does not undermine the tension. In fact, it builds it, whilst also reinforcing just how extraordinary she was.

The word ‘extraordinary’ also best describes Rosamund Pike’s performance. She is immensely compelling as Marie, providing a tour-de-force display that solidifies her status as one of Britain’s finest actresses. She nails the voice and the mannerisms, playing Marie with such depth, honesty and understanding. It feels as if she truly connects with how Marie felt and what she suffered at the hands of her own compulsion to report on the human cost of war.

Jamie Dornan and Tom Hollander both offer excellent support, the former as her photographer partner in crime and the later as her long-suffering but ever supportive editor. Fundamentally a good supporting role is there to assist the lead, never detracting but solidifying the central performance. Something that both do superbly. Stanley Tucci also pops up in a small but winning role as Marie’s love interest. Proof, were it truly needed, that you can’t go wrong with a bit of Tucci.

The film overall never quite equals Pike’s performance. There are huge jumps in time, sometimes months and sometimes years, with interesting plot points being briefly touched upon as to explored. This isn’t so much a traditional biopic that explores an important person’s Wikipedia page. Instead it is a film that captures the feeling of the person and their experiences. There’s absence of melodrama in its various depictions of the war zones Marie attended, it’s quieter, more revolutionary and harder-hitting as a result.

By the time the credits roll you’re left feeling all-too aware of importance of journalism during the times of conflict, but the toll it can have on people’s souls.

4 stars

A Private War is in UK cinemas from Friday 15th February.

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