Berlin 2023

Golda review – Helen Mirren chain-smokes her way through a drab biopic

The Oscar-winner dons prosthetics and latex in this hectic and rather bland look at controversial Israeli prime minister Golda Meir

It's almost impossible to recover from the initial sight of Helen Mirren, clad with a false prosthetic nose and stringy grey wig, in the disappointing and over-directed biopic Golda. Ostensibly made to look like former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, the camera cranes down in a silly, overdramatic reveal, and we can almost feel the movie asking: can you believe this is the same woman who played Elizabeth II and Catherine the Great? But between the wandering accent and layers of latex that can't quite hide the Mirren-ness of it all, we very much can.

This film from Israeli director Guy Nattiv spans eighteen crucial days during the Yom Kippur War, fought between Israel and a coalition of Arab states in 1973. It is, in many ways, an attempt to find the humanity in a controversial figure. But “attempt” is the defining word: we don't really get a sense of who Golda is, or what she's fighting for, because the movie is trying to be too many things at once – a war movie, a political statement, a courtroom drama – and failing at all of them. Set within the framework of Meir's testimony to the 1974 Agranat Commission and flashing back in time to outline her role in the war, it's for the most part an overly drab and hectic affair, with no consistent style and a cheapness that leaves it all feeling a bit TV movie.

The real Meir was known for her excessive smoking habit, of course, which Golda indulges to parodic levels: every other shot is either of the prime minister lighting up or taking a woeful drag (a good way to describe Mirren's look here), and so the movie runs with this as her dominant personality trait. We get it: Golda smoked. But what else? And while Mirren is clearly committed to the role, her performance is undercut by the film's switching to archive footage of the real Meir, a bizarre decision that only succeeds in exposing how she hasn't quite nailed the physicality.

There are a few good scenes, and a few sharp lines, especially when Liev Schreiber turns up as Henry Kissinger and we sense there was a better movie in a chamber piece along the lines of Kissinger-Meir. But the whole thing feels like Mirren and her team saw the opportunity to ape the success of a film like Joe Wright's Oscar-baity Churchill flick Darkest Hour, honing in on a short period in a prominent figure's life, lured by the same promise of awards glory that greeted Gary Oldman's fat suit. That movie, derivative as it was, had a consistency and engagement that this one lacks. Even if you know nothing of Golda Meir, one senses she deserves better than the smoky storytelling on display here.

Golda was screened as part of the Berlin Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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