When young women come to me and say, “I want to be a war reporter!” after seeing Hollywood films that glamorize the job, I always tell them gently to consider the life that it entails. Perhaps the mantra that first-wave feminists gave us is not true after all: you cannot have it all. Or at least not without dark consequences.
In 2012, while working on a story about war criminals in Belgrade, Serbia, I got a devastating early morning phone call: my colleague and friend Marie Colvin was dead, killed by Bashar al-Assad’s bombs in Homs, Syria. Her roller-coaster life is captured in a new film, A Private War, currently in theaters.
The director of A Private War, Matt Heineman, won accolades for his brilliant documentaries on the drug war (Cartel Land, 2015) and the Islamic State (City of Ghosts, 2017). He struggled, as did the actors, to make the film truly authentic. But because it is not a biopic (Heineman resists the term) and some characters are composites, the movie is confusing to those of us who know the real story. There were no good guys at the Sunday Times, where Colvin worked, who cared for her well-being. There were instead editors who wanted scoops at the expense of the safety of their reporters. Colvin had many friends in London, but none of them were similar to the Bridget Jones–style girlfriend character (portrayed by Nikki Amuka-Bird) in the film. Her last boyfriend was not a caring and loving Stanley Tucci but rather a man who gave her immense heartache and distress. There were no “heads on sticks” in Bosnia, as the character meant to be Colvin’s first husband, Patrick Bishop, says in one of the opening scenes (heads were on sticks in Chechnya). Colvin’s second husband, Juan Carlos Gumucio, is erased from the script altogether, though he played an important role in her life.