A Private War review: Rosamund Pike delivers a career-best performance in this searing tale of fearless War correspondent Marie Colvin.

A Private War review
Credit – APW Film II, Limited

Across her acclaimed career with The Sunday Times, Colvin went out to cover some of the most dangerous conflicts that the 21st Century has so far seen, from the Sri Lankan civil war to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. The film charts the final 12 years of her life and she struggles to reconcile with the images that have burnt deep into her memory, leaving her scarred but forever hungry to head back out into a war-zone.

Through depicting these numerous conflicts, Heineman’s film strives to explore what it is that drives Marie to return to the frontline, despite the fact that it takes a significant toll on her mental health and well being as well as the relationships in her life.

Marie herself best describes the reason as to why she feel compelled to report on these dangerous places and often risking her life for the sake of reporting the truth on a number of conflicts which come to reflect the darkest shades of humankind. She states that she’s scared of growing old and also frightened of dying young. She puts those fears on the line every time she heads out to tell the story of those affected by violent conflicts.

She’s intense, jittery, strong-willed, stubborn and brave, sometimes to a point where she seems to go out of her way to put herself in the most dangerous position. It requires an equally fearless actress to portray such a remarkable individual, and it is in Rosamund Pike’s performance that the film thrives on. She is simply outstanding, mastering Colvin’s accent and filling her performance with carefully researched nuances to bring Marie to life. She is undoubtedly the best thing about the film, constantly captivating and surprising.

The film itself can be guilty of being quite over-wrought and a little cliched when dealing with elements of Marie’s PTSD, with a bland recurring nightmare being an example of some of the worn out tropes that the film often reverts to when articulating the conflicts within Marie’s own head.

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For the most part the film is a little lacking in anything all that inventive on a visual level. Where it makes up for a lack of vision is in its visceral depictions of the war-zones that Marie enters. While the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are a little thinly sketched, the final third in Syria is particularly hard-hitting with all involved very much more interested in the terrible conflict in Syria which continues to make casualties of its civilians. The film never skimps on its depiction of violence, but does so with a level of tastefulness and grace, never losing its respect for Marie and for the numerous victims at the centre of all the bloody conflicts that it touches upon.

With able support from the likes of Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci and a strong Jamie Dornan, A Private War succeeds in painting a portrait of Marie that is well performed and well-staged, packing a great deal of character and history into its very efficient 106 minute run-time. It is an un-fussy look at a fascinating woman whose career was nothing short of astounding, with the film more than giving her the respect that she and others of her kind who head into war-zones to cover the truth for the sake of human history deserve. A gripping account of a remarkable woman and journalist, anchored by an exceptional lead performance from Pike.

A Private War review by Andrew Gaudion, October 2018.

A Private War was reviewed at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival.

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A Private War