I came across a click-bait headline in my news feed on Rosamund Pike’s arduous journey to making A Private War an upcoming biographical film on the life of Marie Colvin, an American foreign correspondent who spent much of her working life embedded in the war zones of the world before losing her life in one a few years ago.
I was in the dark on Colvin’s story and tracked down a copy of the Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” that the producers had adapted for the screen. It is a mammoth piece of journalism and gives an in-depth accounting of a life lived on the precipice. Colvin was no ordinary reporter. She was a woman who taught herself to override her primal fears in search of a good story, who continually put her neck on the line in order to uncover the truth.
She was instantly recognizable for the eye-patch over her left eye, the result of a grenade explosion while tracking the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in the early noughties. The loss would add a chink to her armour that she never recovered from and opened the flood gates of her PTSD. In some ways Colvin would never recover her sense of optimism, the ravages of war sinking ever deeper into her pores.
“I know things I don’t want to know—like how small a body gets when it is burned to death.”
She was a charming iconoclast, the kind of woman that eschewed fatigues in favour of lace underwear and designer jackets on assignment. She also enjoyed the favour of despots and revolutionaries, finding the attention of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator in the nineteen-eighties, and became fast friends with Palestine’s Yasser Arafat who gifted her with a string of double pearls and invited her to travel with him in his personal envoy.
Her nine lives eventually ran out in 2012 after sneaking in to Syria in order to document the atrocities in the city of Homs. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad had a strict veto on all international journalists entering the country and promised to execute any and all correspondents who disobeyed his orders. On February 22nd Colvin and Paul Conroy, her photographer, awoke to direct shelling on their hide-out before a shell took her life.
Colvin was a wildcard, a heavy drinker and whimsical dreamer but above all a deeply caring individual. Yes, she savoured the excitement and terror, of putting her life on the chopping block time and time again. But she also believed that she could make a difference, to call attention to the abhorrent behaviour of third-world tyrants and their mistreatment of innocents. And that’s all anyone can hope for.