The voice has stayed with Rosamund Pike. For the new movie “A Private War,” the British actress transformed her posh, rounded speech into a distinctive American rasp, to play Marie Colvin, the Long Island-raised, London-based journalist who was killed in Syria in 2012. On tough occasions, Pike still imagines using her tone: It suggests a woman who gets things done.
That voice, along with the patch Colvin wore after she lost an eye to a grenade in Sri Lanka, became her calling cards as she catapulted into war zones around the world, and wrote deeply felt, courageously reported articles for The Sunday Times in London. “A Private War,” due Nov. 2, aims to realistically portray her struggles and explain why she persisted. And it could have scarcely arrived at a more apt, and fraught, time.
“This movie has all Marie’s gestures and movements,” the CNN and PBS anchor Christiane Amanpour, who knew Colvin, wrote in an email. “She was killed, probably directly targeted, for getting the truth out about the Syria war. It’s especially relevant given the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month. He too was simply speaking the truth.”
Colvin’s story — her rise as an international correspondent reporting on conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere; her bravery going into hostile territory to document the civilian cost of war; and ultimately, her death while covering a relentless battle in Homs — is in some ways tailor-made for the big screen. She was undeniably gutsy but suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical ills from witnessing so much trauma. She was also witty, gregarious and stylish: a natural cinematic heroine.
Women like Colvin — and those before her, like the British correspondent Clare Hollingworth, who broke the news of World War II in Europe, and pioneering photojournalists like Gerda Taro and Dickey Chapelle — have been at the front of conflicts for a century or more, delivering rich material, with fascinating personal tales.
And yet “A Private War” is one of only a handful of Hollywood features that put the focus squarely on female war correspondents in the field — perhaps only the third or fourth such film in decades. By contrast, dozens have followed male journalists abroad, said Matthew Ehrlich, author of “Journalism in the Movies” and a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Accurately reflecting these women in pop culture “is massively important,” Amanpour said. “Especially since females in the field are often portrayed as frivolous, slightly hysterical, sexually promiscuous appendages! I still feel so bad for Martha Gellhorn, the brilliant WWII correspondent, who’s forever known as Ernest Hemingway’s (third) wife.” (The HBO movie about her is “Hemingway & Gellhorn” — a second billing she wouldnâ€™t have tolerated.)
“Just like in every other walk of life, if you don’t have equal representation, you don’t get the full story,” Amanpour said. “Marie and I and all the other women now in this field bring an essential dimension to war reporting.”
In “Bearing Witness,” a 2005 television documentary about female war journalists, Colvin described the idealism that drove her. War “is what happens to people, and no one wants it,” she said then. “It’s what you try to bear witness to. That makes me think you can sometimes make a difference — attempt to, anyway.”
In Hollywood, Pike said, “If Marie had been a man,” her biopic “would have been made, maybe more easily. And there probably would have been many actors raising their hand” for the part.
Playing Colvin left an emotional mark; even discussing the production and what Colvin witnessed left her queasy, she said. “I had to be her at all times, which meant carrying her in my body and my bones,” she said. She dressed in Colvin’s clothes and worked with a movement coach to recreate the way the reporter carried tension in her neck. In between takes, she studiously watched Colvin on tape.
Authenticity was paramount for the director, Matthew Heineman. “The film, for me, is both a homage to Marie and a homage to journalism,” he said.
“A Private War” is not just Heineman’s first feature: it was also his first time on a movie set. In the monthslong shoot in London and Jordan, where they filmed the war scenes, he leaned on his cinematographer, Robert Richardson, a favorite of Martin Scorsese whose credits also include “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”
And he had a guide in Paul Conroy, Colvin’s longtime photographer, who was with her when she died and was gravely wounded himself. His experiences are also the subject of a new documentary, “Under the Wire,” adapted from his book of the same name. For “A Private War,” Conroy, who’s played by Jamie Dornan (“50 Shades of Grey”), was on set daily as an adviser, Heineman said.
Much of the realism came from supporting players in Jordan: for scenes set in Iraq and Homs, Heineman chose people displaced from there, interviewing them to find those whose experiences matched the characters’. “They weren’t acting,” he said. “They were telling their real stories. And those tears were real tears.”
Moments like a group of Iraqi women chanting a prayer as a mass grave of their relatives is uncovered were not scripted. For Pike, it was an agony beyond performance. “At times, I had to walk off set; my feelings were churning in my body to such an extreme degree, it was unbearable,” she said. “Bearing witness is actually unbearable.”
But, she added, “It’s a pain that you feel is important, because the truth is there.”
The emotional fallout from being a war correspondent isn’t always depicted on screen, perhaps because male leads are commonly shown as swashbuckling heroes, Ehrlich, the professor, said. Heineman, though, thought of his film as a psychological thriller, he said. “It’s getting inside her mind and understanding the damage this did to her,” he explained. “Trying to personify PTSD, which is something I’ve experienced personally, and I know a lot of friends who’ve suffered, both as journalists and as vets.”
Amanpour, who was both a competitor and a colleague of Colvin — during the Arab Spring, they collaborated on the last interview with the Libyan president, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — said that PTSD is “the sad and brutal side of what we do.” The strength of “A Private War,” she added, was in not shying away from it. “Especially today, audiences need to know the risks and sacrifices, the strength and commitment, of reporters like Marie.”
In 2016, Colvin’s family sued the Assad regime for wrongful death, offering a trove of evidence alleging that Bashar al-Assad’s regime knowingly attacked her and other journalists. The Assad regime has not responded to the suit.
“A Private War” ends with chilling statistics: in the six years since Colvin’s death, at least 500,000 people have been killed in Syria. Given the carnage, it’s hard to imagine that one story might have an impact. Colvin held on to hope that it would: for her final broadcast, on CNN, hours before she was killed, she detailed the death of a Syrian baby boy.
“I think that she believed, as I believe, that to get people to actually care, you need to tell personal stories,” Heineman said. “And I think that’s also something that plagued her, and that plagues me, is — do people care, will people care, is it worth it? Are my words going to matter?”
Edited according to Orient Net. Link for the original source of NYT