Stars: Helen Mirren, Camille Cottin, Lior Ashkenazi, Rami Heuberger, Rotem Keinan, Dvir Benedek, Ellie Piercy, Henry Goodman, Ed Stoppard, Dominic Mafham, Ohad Knoller, Liev Schreiber
Writer: Nicholas Martin
Director: Guy Nattiv
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Release Date: August 25, 2023
Much as the 2006 film THE QUEEN sought to provide insight into the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II by focusing on one specific incident (the death of Princess Diana), GOLDA sets about presenting Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, the late Golda Meir, by primarily dramatizing how she handled 1973’s Yom Kippur War.
Both Queen Elizabeth in THE QUEEN and Prime Minister Meir in GOLDA are portrayed by Helen Mirren. Mirren has long since proved that she can brilliantly play pretty much anybody. Still, she’s not the first person who comes to mind to in casting Meir.
Prosthetics, hair and makeup designer Karen Hartley Thomas helps the lean, comparatively unlined Mirren physically transform into the larger, more visibly aged Meir. Mirren (could we doubt her?) nails every moment emotionally and intellectually. Still, because GOLDA integrates news footage of the real Meir with the action, we have ample opportunity to note cosmetic differences between the two.
GOLDA begins with brief newsreels of Israel’s founding as a state in 1948. We see more reports from the “Arab-Israel War,” aka the Six-Day War, in 1967.
Then we’re in 1973. More news informs us of the beginnings of the Watergate scandal in the United States (we’ll find out the relevance in due course).
This is followed by a title: “Four years after Golda Meir’s election as a caretaker prime minister and still overconfident from their victory in the Six Day War, Israel enters the fall of 1973 unprepared to face the consequences of their hubris.”
This requires interpretation that GOLDA does not provide. First, what is “a caretaker prime minister”? Well, in this case, it’s a misnomer. Following the sudden death of previous Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol, who was immediately replaced by interim prime minister Yigal Allon, a special election was held, which Meir won. That’s not a “caretaker,” that’s a duly elected official.
More importantly, while “hubris” may have played a part in Israel’s unpreparedness for a simultaneous coordinated attack by Egypt and Syria, that’s less an issue than the reasons for the attack. Historians agree that Syria wanted to reclaim territory the country had lost in the Six-Day War, while there is disagreement over whether Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat also wanted to reclaim territory or just create a situation where a peace treaty would be the end result.
If GOLDA was going to begin with onscreen information, an explanation of the national motives of Syria and Egypt would be helpful. As it is, while we are privy to every bit of Israeli operational strategy and consideration of outcomes (how many may die here if this is done, versus how many may die there if it isn’t), we have to look outside the film for answers to other pertinent matters.
The details we get are intriguing; military buffs will likely be especially pleased. We also get a convincing portrait of Meir’s resolve and sense of responsibility. She records every casualty number in a small notebook, and does all of her prime ministerial duties while secretly undergoing treatment for the cancer that ultimately killed her. (We also see that she is a smoker so addicted that she lights up during medical exams.)
In addition to Mirren, the rest of the cast is extremely good. Liev Schreiber makes U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urbane and warm (regardless of one’s opinion of the man, that’s how he is meant to be here, and Schreiber modulates the role skillfully). Rami Heuberger is intense as the frequently distraught Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. (Yet another unanswered question posed verbally by Meir and others: why is Dayan so distracted?) Camille Cottin is the epitome of firm devotion as Meir’s friend and secretary Lou Kaddar.
Director Guy Nattiv maintains a muted visual palette that segues easily into black-and-white news clips, which are utilized shrewdly throughout. Writer Nicholas Martin keeps the dialogue realistic and plausible.
But certain choices don’t pay off, such as the framing device of having Meir speaking before the Agranat Commission in 1974. Yes, this happened, but it doesn’t add anything to our comprehension of what’s happening or even as a storytelling device.
Less pressing but still odd is that people onscreen speak English and offscreen speak subtitled Hebrew. It seems like it would be less distracting if it were one or the other.
Likewise, Meir speaks with a slightly Russian-tinged American accent. Meir was born in Ukraine but raised in Wisconsin. GOLDA only mentions the former; audiences might not wonder about it if the latter were pointed out, even momentarily.
GOLDA is an informative, credible, and occasionally affecting examination of a particular slice of history, and a decent portrait of its title personage in a time of crisis. However, it shouldn’t require this much homework for viewers to understand so much of the context.
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Article: Movie Review: GOLDA