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  • Colin Fraser


TWO AND A HALF STARS Golda Meir faces an inquiry into her governments handling of the Yom Kippur war.


Starring Helen Mirren, Camille Cottin

There’s a moment in this would-be thriller when Henry Kissinger says to Golda Meir that: “I am first an American, second a secretary of state, third a Jew.” The Prime Minister deftly replies that “You forget that in Israel, we read from right to left.” It’s a great line, one that fires a much needed spark of levity into otherwise heavy-handed proceedings. It’s a welcome moment, but one that arrives far too late to save the film.

GOLDA is the story of how, fifty years ago, Israel was blindsided by its neighbours in what became the Yom Kippur war. Events leading up to the incursion are told in flashback as Meir gives testimony to the Arrant Commission, explaining what went so wrong. There’s a hint of the sexism she faced as leader, the occasional nod toward emotional and political agendas that forced her hand, but mostly it’s a linear explanation of what happened and why. GOLDA is a dramatised Wikipedia entry, if you will.

For the unaware, the film says a lot about Golda as Prime Minister, as a negotiator, as a force of politics, as an international leader; she was Israel’s Iron Lady after all. But there’s not much about Golda the person - other than chain-smoking has left her with health complications - and with that the film loses most of its power. As a by-the-numbers account (one-sided many could argue) there’s some value in that late-night SBS kind of way. As a portrait of a powerful woman who had the courage to stand in the crosshairs of history, not so much.

A lot has been said of Helen Mirren’s performance as Golda, albeit one buried under a mountain of prosthetics, wrinkle cream then hidden behind a fog of cigarette smoke (this government knew how to smoke!) Frankly, it’s powerful. To be able to work through the restraints of heavy make up, claustrophobic production and a lack-lustre script yet still be a commanding screen presence says much about Mirren’s talent as an actor. Not only that, she is utterly credible and is one of the few things the audience has to hang on to. 

As a political drama, GOLDA has passing interest. As a biopic, much less. As a war-movie or thriller, hardly any at all. In spite of Mirren’s best effort, this personal portrait of Meir remains resoundingly one-note (her cajoling of Liev Schreiber’s Kissinger are notable exceptions) while the war-room machinations are simply leaden and dull. It’s left to pre-credit archival footage of Meir and Sadat at the peace accord to finally lift the film. By then of course, we’re on the way out.



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