Photo:  Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures
Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ “Golda”

Portrait of a politician

Film review by Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel, responsible for commanding the country between 1969 and 1974, is often referred to as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics. “Golda,” directed by Academy Award–winning director Guy Nattiv, demonstrates exactly why she earned that moniker. Although “Golda” doesn’t qualify as a classic biopic, it concentrates mainly on the outbreak and course of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 instead of her entire career.

The film is framed by the Agranat Commission, an inquiry established to investigate failings in the Israel Defense Forces in the prelude to the Yom Kippur War when Israel was found unprepared. Meir’s self-critical appearance before the commission helped clarify and justify the decisions made.

It’s also framed by the face of Meir, who appears in almost every shot of the film, although mostly shrouded in smoke. It’s an impeccable performance by Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren, who leaves vanity by the side of the road and captures her character’s nuances perfectly. And although much is being said about the selection of Mirren to play Meir, the ensuing debate about whether a non-Jewish actress should play one of history’s most prominent Jewish women lingers. I think that Mirren disappears behind the makeup and the wig and brings Meir to life. You can decide for yourself.

The movie headlined the Jerusalem Film Festival and during a press conference prior to the screening, researchers with MyHeritage presented Mirren with evidence linking her to Meir, although the connection is distant and through marriage only. Her personal connection to Israel dates back to 1967, when she traveled with a Jewish boyfriend to work for a month on a kibbutz.

Director Guy Nattiv sets a quick pace and deftly weaves a story about war, utilizing actual newsreels and photographs with moments of humor; Meir tempts Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber — also unrecognizable) with a plate of borscht. 

“Golda” is a terse, political drama; a complex picture of responsibility and personal trauma. But don’t be concerned; you needn’t be an expert in Middle East politics or a history buff to be able to follow the action in “Golda.” As the fate of Israel rests entirely on her tired but determined shoulders, we witness a great leader being born.

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