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Film reviews: A Private War

Jittery and raw: Rosamund Pike as the ill-fated journalist Marie Colvin


A Private War

(15) ★★★★✩

RUMOUR has it that Rosamund Pike came a close second to Emily Blunt for the role of Mary Poppins in the recent Disney reboot, and you can easily believe it. It’s far more of a stretch, though, to imagine the practically perfect Gone Girl star as a grizzled, alcoholic, fiftysomething war correspondent — yet her powerful, Golden Globe-nominated turn as the late, legendary war reporter Marie Colvin is a career best.

In 2012, as a US court recently confirmed, Colvin was assassinated by President Assad’s regime in Syria while reporting on the civil war in Homs alongside her stalwart photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie ‘Fifty Shades’ Dornan going undercover with a beard). A Private War counts down to that fatal moment and explores what led the rebellious Colvin, who had already lost an eye in a grenade attack a decade earlier, to repeatedly risk her own life for a story. As her own boss at The Sunday Times (played by Tom Hollander) points out, ‘no one in their right minds would do what you do for a living’.

What did drive Colvin, as she herself declares in an archive footage postscript, is that she wanted to make her readers ‘care’ about the victims of war ‘as much as I did at the time’. But all that feeling took its toll. The film shows Colvin hospitalised with PTSD and self-medicating on vodka, sex and cigarettes as she fights a ‘private war’ with the mirror.

The debut feature from documentary director Matt Heineman (City Of Ghosts), A Private War stands as an unintended companion piece to 2018 Colvin doc Under The Wire — filling in the flawed woman behind the ace reporter.

While Pike was undoubtedly attractive casting for funders — there’s a notable quantity of scenes featuring the former Bond girl in her underwear — she more than proves herself a powerfully convincing choice. Edgy, jittery and raw, she seems to channel Colvin with an uncanny physical portrayal of a woman afraid of dying young — and of growing old.

And at least the lingerie shots are acknowledged by a script that captures Colvin’s mordant humour. When Dornan’s character remarks on her fancy bra, Pike ripostes: ‘If anyone’s going to pull my corpse from a trench, I want them to be impressed.’

The verdict

Powerful frontline biopic stoked by a career-best Rosamund Pike

Instant Family

(12A) ★★★✩✩

WHO’S the daddy? Why, it’s Mark Wahlberg, of course! The Daddy’s Home star works a familiar groove in another crowd-pleasing US family comedy. Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne, pictured with Wahlberg) are fixer-uppers who want to start a family. Having decided (for peculiarly hazy reasons) to go the foster/adoption path, they find that three kids with abandonment issues are tougher than houses to whip into shape.

This well-meaning heart-warmer is tellingly based on the real-life fostering experience of Daddy’s Home co-writer and director Sean Anders. In the screening I went to, it even got a big thumbs up from leading UK care charity Who Cares? Scotland. Don’t expect any real grit, though: the Hollywood ending slips down as easily as warm chocolate sauce.

The Kid Who Would Be King

(PG) ★★★✩✩

A PROPER kids’ film (not an adults’ film in disguise), this charming contemporary update of the King Arthur legend is clearly a labour of love from Joe Cornish, directing his first feature since 2011’s Attack The Block. The vibe is The Goonies meets Blue Peter, as bullied, fatherless 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) plucks a sword from an abandoned building site and goes off to fulfil his destiny, aided by a young Merlin (Angus Imrie, son of Celia) and leaving this cheery note for his mum: ‘Gone on a quest to save Britain. Don’t worry!’

Serkis Jr is perfect casting for a boy ‘pure of heart’, Imrie is a revelation and teen newcomer Rhianna Dorris is certainly ‘one to watch’ as the only ‘Lady’ of the Round Table. Unfortunately, the story drags somewhat — the young cast never quite gels as a pack and the special effects (with the exception of some kung-fu fighting trees) never rise above the generic: a recurrent horde of fiery CGI knights seem consistently easy to defeat.

Still, given our current level of #BrexitShambles despair, it’s a timely tonic to have a film extolling hope in an age when ‘hearts are hollow and the land is lost and leaderless’.