THE REEL: 'A Private War' is a gripping watch

Wednesday March 18 2020

A Private War is a 1h 50min biography, drama and war movie, rated R. PHOTO| COURTESY


War correspondents are a hallowed lot amongst journalists. They take the extraordinary risk of going to go to the frontlines of armed conflicts and bring us the stories at great personal risk. What they do, no-one else can do. People like the late Marie Colvin immortalised in A Private War pay the ultimate price for their dedication to get to the heart of the story.

A Private War is a 1h 50min biography, drama and war movie, rated R for disturbing violent images, language throughout, and brief sexuality or nudity.

Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) was as an American journalist who worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the British Newspaper The Sunday Times from 1985 until her death in 2012. She died while covering the siege of Homs in Syria.


The cinematography of this movie is very grim. We are taken to the deserts of Iraq where mass graves are unearthed, to the jungles of Sri Lanka where Marie interviews the rebel leader of the Tamil Tigers.

However, her most gripping and final story was the destruction of Homs, Syria.

Bombed out buildings and the desperate civilians trapped in them tell a story all of their own, one of abandonment by the world and utter desperation.

Marie is tormented by the horrors that she has seen as she covers conflicts around the world. This takes its toll on both her romantic and platonic relationships.

She cannot get the images out of her head and at one point, she has to check herself in for treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


A grenade attack in Sri Lanka results in Marie losing one eye and rather than having this slow her down, she gets a patch and swings back into the action.

She is brazen, fearless and isn’t willing to let her injury get in the way. In fact, this adds to her legendary status and also ensures that she stands out as she is easily recognisable.

The accolades for her work come in one after the other, she wins the coveted Foreign Reporter of the Year, British Press Awards three times amongst others and her ambitious editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) is eager for her to continue bringing prestige to the paper but also ensure that he capitalizes on the wins to ensure his own place in history.


The movie makes for compelling watching since you never lose focus of what is being covered, war, stripped down to its ugly underbelly and not romanticised but seen through the eyes of the innocent victims who have to live through it.

Harrowing scenes showing children maimed in Syria and their desperate parents pleading for help from doctors working without basic necessities will stay with you long after the movie ends.

Marie has to maintain a professional mien but it’s impossible in the face of such pain and loss.

Childhood friend Rita Williams (Nikki Amuka Bird) is concerned for Marie and she voices her fear that she is turning to the bottle to deal with her private demons but Marie laughs her off and yet we see the toll that this takes on her health as she is also a serial smoker.


Torn between getting the story and endangering the lives of its journalists, we see the dilemma that editors face in commissioning stories. Sean is eager to get the scoop but is unable to control Marie as she is a veteran and her instincts determine which stories she will cover regardless of the personal risk involved.

It almost seems unfair that the editor sitting in his plush office gets to decide for the journalist who is at the frontline.

Personal ambitions such as having a family had at one time preoccupied Marie’s mind but sadly, they were never fulfilled due to miscarriages that she suffered.

At the end of the movie, we get to hear Marie in her last report to CNN from Homs and it is all the more haunting, since it was her last.

There is also an interview where she explains why she does what she does and what it means to get the story to the world.

Marie Colvin was an exceptional journalist and the profession is the poorer without her.