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Dan Webster reviews "Golda"

Film still of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda (2023).
Golda, Embankment Films/Hianlo/New Native Pics./Piccadilly Pics./Qwerty Films/ShivHans Pics./Bleecker Street Media, 2023.
Film still of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda (2023).


When it comes to reviewing movies that explore stories taken from real life, it’s often hard to separate the art of cinema from the arc of history. Such is the case with Golda, a film that strives to capture a specific couple of weeks in the life of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Directed by Israeli-born filmmaker Guy Nattiv and based on an original screenplay by the English screenwriter Nicholas Martin, Golda stars Helen Mirren as the title character. The film uses as its time frame an 18-day period in 1973 in which Meir, as head of government, had to oversee Israel’s response to what came to be known as the Yom Kippur War.

Yet even aside from a commentary about the film itself, which—not surprisingly—boasts an Oscar-worthy performance by Mirren, Golda has attracted any number of collateral criticisms. One involves the casting of Mirren herself. Her not being Jewish has caused some commentators to bring up the topic of cultural appropriation.

Controversial, too, is the fact that, like the non-Jewish Bradley Cooper who portrays Leonard Bernstein in the film Maestro with a prosthetic nose, Mirren is buried under a mass of makeup, including an augmented nose. Both makeup choices have been branded as nothing less than anti-Semitic.

And then there’s the whole issue of Israel itself, a regime that in recent years has been the target of much criticism for its harsh treatment of the Palestinians who live either in or next to the country. A number of international voices have decried Golda for, rightly or wrongly, glorifying a country that has grown ever more conservative as the 21st century progresses.

Lost in all of this is the film itself, which deserves an assessment based on what director Nattiv has put on the screen. And what Nattiv and Martin have given us is far more—and less—than your ordinary biographical study.

The “less” factor involves how little backstory Golda provides. Yes, we’re told the basics via on-screen narration, both as a brief introduction and epilogue. But the overall lead up to and ultimate aftereffects of the war may leave some viewers more than a bit lost—not just those unfamiliar with Middle Eastern history but with the life, and significance, of Meir herself.

Nor does the film give us any scenes depicting the actual war. Maybe for budgetary reasons, what we get instead are shots of Meir and her military leaders huddled in a bunker watching as the action plays out on a big screen. We see their reactions, particularly those of Meir, as the screams of terrified men, many of whom are dying, play over the radio.

Yet as in other films in which brutality takes place off screen—Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs comes to mind—the result of that filmmaking decision is arguably even more effective at portraying the horrors of war. The intensity of Golda, then, comes from other sources. One is the sound editing, which permeates the entire project, from the bunker scenes to the sequences at night when the chain-smoking Meir attempts to sleep at a time when conscience would dictate that sleep be impossible.

Another comes from Mirren, a four-time Oscar nominee and winner for portraying Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ 2006 film The Queen. As adept as Meryl Streep at portraying historical figures, Mirren brings to her performance a feel for what we can reasonably believe drove Meir: a dual sense of grit and regret—grit for being willing to make the hard decisions that she considered necessary to save Israel, and yet regret for in doing so having to put so many young men and women in harm’s way.

If the film does comment on politics, it is to refute the notion, as has been charged, that the “surprise” Meir’s administration felt at the sudden attack by Arab forces in 1973 was largely her fault. Moshe Dayan, the hero of the 1967 war (played here by Rami Heuberger), is portrayed as even more culpable.

As Nattiv portrays it, Meir accepted full responsibility for any failures. And while that and more of Golda might be refuted, it begs the question that I previously implied: what is more important, cinematic art or straight history? Nattiv has put his emphatic answer onscreen for all to see—and to judge.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for