Golda is one of at least two biopics this year featuring non-Jewish actors wearing prosthetics to portray Jewish people.
The immediate background going into Golda: Egypt, Syria and Jordan surprised Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973 with an attack on the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Fighting would last 19 days and the U.S. would step up with ceasefire talks. The war would leave devastating ramifications for Golda’s legacy. In 1974, Golda would testify in front of Agranat Commission and they would clear her of any responsibility for the war.
According to the film’s production notes, director Guy Nattiv does not describe the film as a traditional biopic or a war film. Instead, he says it is “a magnified look at a female leader nearing the end of her life, suddenly trapped inside smokey rooms facing total destruction.” Nattiv also notes that Gideon Meir suggested casting Helen Mirren. I’ll have more on this controversial casting shortly.
Nicholas Martin’s script chooses to focus on Prime Minister Golda Meir (Helen Mirren) leading Israel through the Yom Kippur War of 1973. There are way too many biopics that absolutely miss in this department. The best biopics are those films with a narrow focus rather than expanding the narrative through several decades. If you wish to know more about Golda’s childhood, watch Jews of the Wild West. On narrowing it down, Martin says the following in the press notes:
“I like to try to find the moment that absolutely defines them. The Yom Kippur War was clearly the moment that defined Golda — for good and bad. She had to suddenly become a soldier and stand strong while the men around her were falling apart.”
I’m not sure that Golda’s leadership during the Yom Kippur War was the best approach in making a biopic. Sure, the war caught Israel off guard but it was ultimately not great for her reputation. Munich offers a test in Golda’s leadership during the weeks after the Munich Olympics but that’s already been done before. There’s so much to discuss about what could have happened during Meir’s premiership instead of what did happen in the leadup to the Yom Kippur War. However, I’m not going to get into the politics of it all in a film review.
The film does make sure to include conversations between Meir and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber). Both politicians are Jewish but at the same time, the U.S. was also involved with the Cold War. Israel was not going to get any special treatment. Both Egypt and Syria were receiving weapons from the then-Soviet Union at the time so if Israel made one wrong move, it would have had drastic ramifications. At the end of the day, Golda decided not to launch a pre-emptive strike against Egypt. A peace treaty would be signed between Israel and Egypt but not until the Carter administration.
By the time that Meir ascended to the premiership, she was already dealing with health issues. Who knows what kind of conversation we would be having about her legacy if she stepped down a few years earlier? She could have turned down the premiership in 1969 after having already stepped down from her position as Secretary-General of the Labor Party. Prior to Golda, there had never before been a woman serving as Israeli prime minister–she was the first. Sadly, she was also the last. That’s not to say that there haven’t been qualified people–it’s just that Likud has had too much of a stronghold on the Israeli government in recent years. The Labor Party isn’t what it used to be. Hell, the Israeli left is no longer what it used to be, even as thousands upon thousands are turning out to protest the Bibi’s judicial coup.
I want to stress that Bleecker Street has mostly given up on regional press screenings. It’s possible that New York and Los Angeles press got to experience Golda on the big screen. This wasn’t the case over here. In any event, it took until hours before Rosh Hashanah to finally watch the film. Would watching in theaters have made a difference? I doubt it. The only difference is that it would not have been a distracted viewing in all likelihood. However, neither theatrical or home viewing can change the fact that Dame Helen Mirren is buried under prosthetics to portray the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Nor will it change the fact that whatever thrills are in the film are failing to thrill. Want a political thriller? Watch Thirteen Days–it has a flaws but it keeps audiences paying attention. That’s the biggest shame.
We’re living in an era where there is a push for authentic representation in casting. However, this somehow seems to exclude Jews when it comes to such representation. While You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah is getting well-deserved attention and acclaim as it rightfully should, we cannot ignore Golda and Maestro‘s casting. While I have yet to see the latter, I can finally discuss my thoughts on Mirren after watching the film the other day. Every time that Mirren opens her mouth is a reminder that she is under all that makeup. We should be celebrating the films that are casting authentically when it comes to representation. It is not enough that many Israelis are portraying Israelis in the film. Was Tovah Feldshuh not available? Any other Jewish actresses? Surely, someone was available! At least we have the Shira Haas-starring Lioness to look forward to watching.
There was a documentary that premiered back in 2019 and is currently available to watch on Tubi. If you’re looking to learn more about the Israeli Iron Lady, the documentary is better than the biopic. You’re more than welcome to read my 2019 DOC NYC review.
Forty-five years after Golda Meir’s passing, Golda will not change anybody’s mind on the prime minister’s legacy.
DIRECTOR: Guy Nattiv
SCREENWRITER: Nicholas Martin
CAST: Helen Mirren, Camille Cottin, Lior Ashkenazi, Rami Heuberger, Rotem Keinan, Dvir Benedek, Ellie Piercy, Henry Goodman, Ed Stoppard, Dominic Mafham, Ohad Knoller, and Liev Schreiber