Golda Meir was known as the ‘Iron Lady of Israel’, Prime Minister through some of the most turbulent moments in its history. New film Golda focuses on Meir, aged 75, dealing with the 20-day Yom Kippur War in 1973: Helen Mirren, replete with prosthetics, embodies Meir, undergoing treatment for lymphoma and in a literal fog of war as she chainsmokes on a global stage.
Amidst this fug, we see Meir, holding off on a pre-emptive first strike against a possible invasion from Egypt and Syria – a decision made because of agreements with America and fears of international hostility, but one she would come to rue. The Israelis take a beating and ultimately fight back, but with heavy losses. The guilt of it weighs on Meir, via some overwrought camerawork and archive footage, but Mirren’s steely performance is the most effective tool in Golda’s character study.
Despite some distracting prosthetics, Mirren’s performance shines through, whether bantering with Liev Schreiber’s Henry Kissinger or stonefaced while listening to soldiers being wiped out (taken from actual archival recordings), she provides a smoky anchor for much of the film’s other issues. Other characters are merely sketched out – Camille Cottin’s Lou Kaddar is particularly ill-served – and there is overly flashy camerawork as if trying to make up for the lack of dramatic fireworks. The war is largely elsewhere: apart from the aforementioned affecting audio sequence, and a helicopter ride with eyepatched veteran soldier Moshe Dayan (played with jittery aplomb by Rami Heuberger) we stay with Meir, rather than on the frontlines.
Though Guy Nattiv’s film chronicles the time, Golda Meir remains distant; documentary footage of her vivaciousness with Arab leaders points to a potentially more exciting project. There is also some heavy-handed symbolism involving birds which doesn’t quite hit home in the way Nattiv presumably intends. Solid but unspectacular, Golda is elevated by Mirren’s stoic performance.
Dir: Guy Nattiv (12A, 100 mins)
Golda is in cinemas from Fri 6 Oct
words KEIRON SELF