1 May 2024

At The Movies - Golda

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 1 May 2024

Dame Helen Mirren stars as 1970s Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in Golda.

Golda Meir - the "Iron Lady of Israel" - led her country during what became known as the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

But if you hoped to learn too many details of that war, or of Golda herself, you may be disappointed.

Certainly, I found myself expected to know rather more about that war - not to mention the previous 6-Days War of 1967 and the events surrounding the bloody inauguration of Israel in 1948 - than I actually did.

And since my background knowledge of Golda Meir herself was limited as well, I started Golda a little on the back foot.

But the basic events of this war are familiar enough. Two of Israel's neighbours chose the public holiday of Yom Kippur as the time to attack - Syria from the north, Egypt from the south.

The Prime Minister was caught unawares, despite repeated warnings from spy agency 2

And from the get-go, it's plain that this isn't going to get bogged down by the causes of the war. This is about one woman - in her 70s - handed the management of a war for survival. Not only in her 70s but undergoing treatment for cancer at the same time.

And it's also about one performance - Dame Helen Mirren - who looks nothing like her usual self under a brilliant makeup job.

The fact that Mirren doesn't look much like Golda Meir is underlined when the film keeps intercutting between the drama of Golda and news footage of the real-life prime minister.

The drama comes in two parts - neither, it has to be said, involving her colleagues in the Cabinet, who mostly seem pretty useless without her.

But she gets practical support from the American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who's uniquely suited for the job here.

Kissinger is played, carefully, by Liev Schreiber, and his scenes with Helen Mirren are highlights of the film.

Unlike the scenes with Golda's loyal assistant, a complete waste of the great Camille Cottin for people who remember her in Call My Agent.

I believe there have been complaints of factual inaccuracies in the film, which obviously I'm in no position to comment on.

One thing no one's denying is how it handles the global ramifications of the conflict - the subsequent oil crisis, and how America and Russia found themselves being dragged closer and closer to an all-out World War.

The parallels between this war and what's going on now are uncomfortably close, which makes it harder to assess the film than it was a year ago when it was made.

Golda Meir - like other women leaders of the past half-century - proved courageous, implacable and ruthless in capitalising on an enemy's mistake, despite the entreaties of her American allies.

There are links to the other current major conflict too. Golda Meir was born in Ukraine - then occupied by the Russians - before her family escaped to the United States.

And you get some idea of where her grit came from - another great performance from Helen Mirren.

But Golda asks far more questions than it answers. We never really find out how the deadly enemies of the Yom Kippur War became seemingly the best of friends in later newsreels.

We're left wondering who was Golda Meir, and why was she far more respected outside the country than she was at home - sound familiar?

As is so often the case in this sort of docudrama, it offered me a lot of information I didn't need at the expense of what I did. In the end I wanted far more from Golda than it seemed interested in giving me. I may have to look elsewhere for more information.

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