A ‘Golda’ opportunity for Helen Mirren

Bio-pic film debuts in time for Yom Kippur War’s 50th anniversary

CULTURE_Golda_web image
Helen Mirren portrays Prime Minister Golda Meir during the Yom Kippur War, in Israeli director Guy Nativ’s film Golda. (Credit: Jasper Wolf, Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

In the new movie Golda , Dame Helen Mirren--an Oscar winner who has played queens of England and Russia--plays Israel's first woman prime minister. The release of the movie, set during the Yom Kippur War, falls on the 50 th anniversary year of that conflict. 

Golda , which played at the Jerusalem Film Festival over the summer will open in Chicago theaters starting August 25th, as part of the film's wide US theatrical release from Bleecker Street & ShivHans Pictures. Fathom sneak screenings start in select Chicago theaters on August 23rd. (Check theaters at  www.goldafilm.com .) 

In the film, we see Golda Meir fighting four battles at once. One is with Israel's attackers, including Syria and Egypt. One is with her own advisors, as they debate strategy. One is with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber)--or more accurately, with his boss, President Nixon--over whether the US will send aid. 

And one is a very personal battle--with cancer. It's the only fight she loses.

When Mirren, who is not Jewish, was cast for the role, she faced backlash, with critics arguing a Jewish person should have been cast in the role instead of Mirren. In response to the criticism, the actor said this: "I do believe it is a discussion that has to be had--it's utterly legitimate," she said in an interview with the Daily Mail last year, but then added:  "…You know, if someone who's not Jewish can't play Jewish, does someone who's Jewish play someone who's not Jewish?"

While she is revered worldwide, Meir has special resonance for Chicago's Jews. Sent by Israel's founder and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, on the eve of Israel's War of Independence, she traveled to the U.S, to raise funds for the nascent State of Israel, ultimately raising $50 million. She addressed of Jewish leaders at the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, passionately pleading for the new nation. The Chicago Jewish Welfare Fund, JUF's predecessor, voted to immediately send $4 million. 

The film, however, is set in 1973, later in Meir's life, but the same year its director, Oscar winner Guy Nattiv, was born in Tel Aviv. Jewish Chicago spoke with him in July: 

You were born in 1973, the same year the Yom Kippur War happened. When did you learn about it?

Only when we were 12 or 13 did they [teach] us about the war in school. They were focusing on how we overcame the debacle and eventually won the war. Years later, the Agranat Commission report was released [Editor's note: The report of this inquiry into the war, headed by Israeli Chief Justice Shimon Agranat, was unsealed in 1995]. Then, we all knew that there were so many dysfunctional situations and people in the command room. It was the Vietnam [War] of Israel. We lost a lot of soldiers, because we were not prepared. 

What did you learn about Meir's leadership of the war?

Golda was a great stateswoman, but not a great commander. She relied on her commanders, who did a bad job. Golda was not the only one who was to blame, [although] she took all the jabs.

What was it like to work with Helen Mirren?

A dream come true! She's one of the queens of cinema. I grew up with her movies. Other than being one of the best actors of our time, she's also the nicest person, a mensch . She came to my house--in the middle of a pandemic--in her flip-flops: "Hey, I'm here. Let's talk." No Hollywood-star approach. 

She sees people. I was sick one day. I didn't sleep all night, and I wanted to hide it. I felt this soft hand on my shoulder. I look up--I see Golda! "Guy dear," she said, "I'm going to 'go Golda' on you. Do you need any tea?"

She came to Israel at the worst time someone of her caliber could come, when democracy is on the line. She got so much pressure from BDS, but she supported the movie. She came. 

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