Berlin: Helen Mirren on Playing Golda Meir in ‘Golda,’ a New Take on Her Story

Berlin: Helen Mirren on Playing Golda Meir in ‘Golda,’ a New Take on Her Story
Feb 2023

The Oscar-winning actress transforms into the Israeli Prime Minister for Guy Nattiv's drama, set during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Playing Golda Meir, says Helen Mirren, was not unlike playing the queen.

Not Queen Elizabeth II, the role that won Mirren the Oscar in 2007 for The Queen. But her earlier namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, which she played in a mini-series of the same name for HBO in 2005.

"[Golda] was extraordinary brave and her commitment to Isreal was total," said Mirren. "It was a bit like playing Elizabeth the first of England, in the sense [of] her commitment to her country and to her nation. She achieved it without being the sort of power mad sort of dictator character. She was very maternal. She had that wonderful domestic side to her. She was happiest when she was on the kibbutz looking after the chickens, but life took her on a different path."

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That different path is the focus of Golda, the new drama from Israeli director Guy Nattiv (Skin), which had its world premiere Monday, Feb. 20 at the Berlin International Film Festival.


In the new drama, which world premieres at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday, Feb. 20, the British actress, now starring on the little screen in Yellowstone prequel series 1923, plays the Israeli Prime Minister during the tumultuous days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A surprise twin attack from the Arab powers of Syria and Egypt, on the morning of Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, saw major losses on Israel's side and nearly led to the country's complete military defeat. But Meir, the only women in the Israeli government, proved a remarkably effective war leader: using her close ties to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to secure vital military supplies and commanding a group of skeptical (and often incompetent) generals to secure a surprise victory that changed the face of the Middle East. In the wake of the war, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, becoming the first Arab country to recognize the Jewish state.

All the while, Meir was engaged in another, personal battle. Having been diagnosed with cancer (the Israeli politician was a notorious chain smoker) she was secretly undergoing treatment while the war progressed.

Nattiv's film focuses on those few eventful days, moving between the Israeli war room and the hospital, capturing the political and personal Meir at the time of her greatest challenge.

"It is quite a new take [on the Golda Meir story] said Nicholas Martin, who wrote the Golda screenplay. "What Golda did during those fateful two weeks [was] the story that really captures who Golda was, her toughness and indefatigability."

Director Nattiv said he drew inspiration for the film from Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 anti-war classic Das Boot.

"In the sense that she is in the trenches, she is in one location and cannot leave, she's very alone in the mayhem of the war," he said. "This is a very tough and hard look at the war and every solider that dies. So for me it was going in with my eyes open. Golda is not a super clear character in this movie. She had her faults, she make mistakes and she took responsibility, which leaders are not doing today."

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Berlinale premiere of Golda, Nattiv addressed the controversy of casting Mirren, a non-Jew, as Meir, arguing the Oscar-winning actress was ideal for the role, and had "a Jewish soul." He noted that he surrounded Mirren with Israeli actors and an Israeli crew to make sure "we were making an Israeli movie."

Lior Ashkenazi, the Israeli actor who plays David "Dado" Elazar, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces in Golda, called out criticism of so-called "authentic casting" with a hypothetical question.

"If there is a movie on Jesus Christ tomorrow, who should play him? A Jew or a non-Jew?"

"Well," noted Mirren, with a chuckle. "It won't be me."

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