Mirren captures Meir in morose “Golda”

Golda (Helen Mirren) – The biopic (biographical picture) is one of cinema’s enduring genres. Essentially, there are three types: docudrama (documentary drama), fictionalized drama, and character psychological study. Some biopics cross multiple sub-types.

Golda falls mostly into the latter category.  Judy, the Judy Garland biopic starring Rene Zellweger; Blonde, the Ana de Armas tour-de-force as Marilyn Monroe; The Queen, Helen Mirren’s depiction of Queen Elizabeth; and The Iron Lady, the Meryl Streep performance as Margaret Thatcher, all garnered Academy Award nominations for their stars. Zellweger, Streep, and Mirren all won Best Actress. 

While these performances were incredible and heralded, the movies themselves were quite mediocre. In each case, the stories covered only narrow slivers of these remarkable women’s lives. Likewise, these icons were depicted as haunted, troubled, and manipulated. The visual tone was dark; the tone was brooding; three of the four ended with their death.

Golda stars Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, the Ukrainian-born, Milwaukee-raised, schoolteacher-turned-Zionist zealot who, despite her gender, her lack of charisma, and her chain smoking, became the Prime Minister of Israel. Golda largely ignores all of this except the chain smoking. It opens with the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and, except for the epilogue, ends with Israel’s victory in that conflict.

The film is terribly flawed. While it creates drama without depicting any war scenes, it focuses on Golda’s cancer diagnosis, her angst over the progress of the war, and her struggle with conflicting advice from her seemingly incompetent advisors. It totally ignores her personal life, her motivations, her atheism, and her internal political struggles.

Mirren, who is actually older than Meir was in 1973, is marvelous … as always. Behind the prosthetics, she captures Meir’s grandmotherly gate, her facial mannerisms, and even her Russian/American/Israeli accent. Because we all know that Israel ultimately prevailed in the war and extended its borders, the film is dominated by Mirren’s presence.

The film could have been better if it played more like Darkest Hour, the Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman or 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic starring Chadwick Boseman. Instead, it is more like Judy, Blonde, and The Iron Lady and just not even as good as The Queen or as bombastic as Elvis, which plays the king of rock n’ roll as victim.

Israeli director Guy Nattiv, who won as Oscar for Live Action Short film in 2019, made the conscious choice to limit Golda’s scope, and it is too bad. Golda deserved better.

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