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Under The Wire: fitting tribute to courageous journalist

Remarkable documentary is a powerful eulogy to war correspondent Marie Colvin

07 September, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Paul Conroy and Marie Colvin in Under the Wire

Directed by Christopher Martin
Certificate 15

THE Widow’s Basement sounds like a horror film. Instead, it is the opening words to an article by journalist Marie Colvin, a war correspondent working for the Sunday Times. She had travelled to the Syrian city of Homs by sneaking past check points and, climbing through a storm drain. There she found a cellar, sheltering scores of children and mothers as the forces of President Bashir Assad sent hundreds of tons of explosives onto their homes above them.

Her report told the world of the atrocities being committed. It was a typical piece of bravery by Colvin, a seasoned reporter who put her own life in danger to bear witness.

Under The Wire is – sadly – a eulogy to her, as she was targeted by President Assad’s regime in 2012.

Using interviews with those who worked with her, particularly photographer Paul Conroy, we learn of her life and the other wars she had covered before the events leading up to her murder.

Her bravery was legendary. While covering the war in Sierra Leone, she stayed behind in a UN compound packed with women and children. Under siege, the UN forces and diplomats and staff had all left, but Colvin knew if she stayed there may be a chance that the people hoping for some protection might be spared.

So when the people of Syria rose up demanding democracy, and Assad struck back violently, Marie packed her notebook and pen and went to war again.

The film shows colleagues discussing the dangers of going to Syria – she had been denied a visa, so had to sneak in via Lebanon – and Marie saying simply she could not stand by.

The gratitude of the people of Homs is all too apparent, judged both by their reaction to her being in their midst, telling their stories to the outside world, and then the genuine grief, respect and compassion they show after she was killed.

“The last words I remember Marie saying is ‘Paul, the snipers are going to be awake…’ and a dramatic pause… ‘and the French!,’” says Paul.

“Then I just heard this whoosh-boom and then I heard another whoosh and impact, from about 150 metres away. It was at that point you realise a gunner had located targets and were telling the artillery. This time, the building shook.”

The regime knew where the so-called media centre was (a ramshackle, half-destroyed building where people had gathered to try and get word out of the terrible attacks) and they deliberately blew it up, the building taking at least 10 direct hits from shells.

As well as extremely unpleasant scenes shot by Conroy – images of death and suffering – this is an extremely, extremely sad film. This is not just the grief felt by friends and colleagues of a remarkable person, but the fact we as a species have not yet worked out how we can find non-violent ways to put aside differences, to share resources, to become truly civilised by never resorting to violence again.

Paul describes his own injuries and then tells us what it feels like to be next to someone you love and care for when they are violently killed. “I found Marie,” he says to the camera. “I put my hand on her chest to confirm what I suspected: she was dead.”

But in this remarkable documentary she lives on.


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