REVIEW: Golda depicts a world leader in a terrifying crisis

By James Mackin

Israel is a very young nation, it was formed less than a century ago. It’s been part of many conflicts in the Middle East, but from an Israeli perspective one of the most important was the Yom Kippur War. Israel was surrounded by a coalition between Egypt and Syria, and there was brutal conflict between the three nations for 19 days. It became a defining moment for the nation, as it ended with Egypt recognizing the official statehood of Israel, as well as becoming an attempt at beginning the process of peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

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Helen Mirren and Liev Schreiber as Prime Minister Golda Meir and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Golda, courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

Golda is a film that depicts this brutal conflict through the perspective of one of its most important players, Israel’s first and only female Prime Minister Golda Meir (played by Helen Mirren from the Queen). The film depicts both her experiences during the war, including her initial shock and attempts to secure American assistance, as well as an inquiry after the war by the Israeli government regarding her conduct. Directed by Guy Nattiv (who previously directed Skin), the film is a biopic concerned with the Prime Minister’s actions and her mental state.

The film is entirely focused on Golda, we never spend a moment of the film’s runtime without her. It’s a very commanding performance from Mirren. She’s fantastic showing a duality in the film, one of extreme confidence among her generals and staff and the other of desperate anxiety. With the weight of her entire nation and every single life in it on her shoulders, Mirren is playing this part like she’s going for every single acting award out there.

Where the film soars is in the scenes of Meir’s anxiety and panic taking over. I spoke with Nattiv, who credits these intense scenes to the collaboration of working with Mirren. “In front of her commanders she was the grown up in charge, but behind the scenes she lost it.” Golda is a film that exists not just to show the events of the Yom Kippur War, but their effect on our point of view character. The best part about this film is the focus and attention on these scenes of anxiety, which are completely engrossing. Aesthetically, the film immerses the viewer in the grainy feel of the 1970s.  The credit for this goes to all on the film, especially Nattiv’s direction.


Helen Mirren as Prime Minister Golda Meir, courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

Without a commanding lead performer like Mirren, this is a film that could collapse under its own weight. Making a film about any part of the complicated and ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict is never an easy task. From the initial partition creating the separate states, to the numerous clashes and wars between both sides, there’s always going to be something left out when making a film about the history of Israel. At no point during this film is the word Palestinian even uttered, which feels like a misstep. The motives for the Egyptian and Syrian alliance are never depicted, which admittedly exists outside the realm of Golda Meir’s point of view. But for the viewer, we only ever see them as a nameless and featureless antagonist.

For a film like Golda to truly be amazing, it needs an objective eye. It needs to take an outsider look at everything involving this situation. A 2 hour film is maybe not the best format for this story, but instead a docuseries on her long and complicated legacy. As a biopic, it feels like an attempt at elevating an important historical figure while portraying her as a human.

At best, Golda is a fascinating portrayal of a world leader in immense crisis. And for anyone who has studied the history of Middle East, or wants to learn more about Israel’s first female Prime Minister, this is a good case study. At worst, Golda feels like a realistic hagiography that avoids discussing nuance. It’s not a bad film, it’s just a topic that’s hard to make a good film out of. Golda gets a 3/5, you can watch it in cinemas now.


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