Golda: Helen Mirren impresses as a leader under unimaginable pressure – The Telegraph

The prosthetics take time to get used to, but this biopic of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir under fire in 1973 is brisk and effective
Helen Mirren smokes in just about every scene in Golda – whether testifying to an inquiry panel about the Yom Kippur War, squabbling with Israel’s military top brass, or even lying supine on a hospital scanner, before Golda Meir gets checked for her ever-worsening case of lymphatic cancer. “You make my job harder,” complains her surgeon; “As you do mine,” the 75-year-old leader drily retorts mid-puff. 
Guy Nattiv’s biopic is set over the weeks in October 1973 when Israel defended its border against a massive two-pronged invasion by Egypt and Syria: a three-packs-a-day situation, surely, for the Prime Minister having to make the toughest calls of her life. The basics are present and correct. Mirren has the hunched gait and doughty exterior of Meir down pat, as well as her querulous Milwaukee accent. She’s not Jewish, unlike the vast majority of the cast, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t good. 
It takes a while to settle in with the lumpy facial prosthetics, admittedly. We’re obviously in Iron Lady terrain here, but for its specific window on a historical moment of truth, this is closer to Mirren’s Darkest Hour – carrying a grave risk, then, of either Streepian OTT bravura or Gary Oldman’s rampant scenery-chewing. But Mirren resists. She’s focused and impassioned. If it weren’t for her almost needlessly wonderful turn as a Geordie housewife in Roger Michell’s The Duke (2020), I’d call this a recent career high. 
She’s even quite funny. “We’ve got trouble with the neighbours again” – in a phone call to Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber) in the middle of the night – is understatement so plum it’s epic, with an echo of our late Queen in Mirren’s delivery. The trouble’s nothing less than apocalyptic. From the sky, Meir’s eye-patch-sporting defence minister Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) watches hell on Earth unfold, with tank commanders screaming their last orders into an inferno, and promptly vomits. 
The trauma of these engagements would never leave Meir either, at least as Nattiv’s film presents her to us: she adds up the casualties in a notebook and flinches with every recalculation. The film is certainly not about brilliant Churchillian strategy – it’s about doubt and unimaginable stress, the griefs and crushing burdens of leadership. These events came, we’re reminded, at an unusually cagey time in US-Israeli relations, with oil prices soaring and Nixon carefully both-sides-ing in his rhetoric. Schreiber’s Kissinger – persuasively stiff, easily outmanoeuvred – is pressured to sup on borscht across Meir’s kitchen table, while he tries to plead ceasefire. 
In her more private moments with a personal assistant (Camille Cottin), Mirren’s Meir lets slip a palpable fragility and fatigue. “All political careers end in failure,” she tartly warns Ariel Sharon (Ohad Knoller), who has one scene as a grumbling adversary biding his time for hers. Cinematically, Golda doesn’t altogether avoid a TV-movie stodginess – it looks a bit drab, with some duff effects and uneven staging. But it has a businesslike running time, and doesn’t waste it. 
Cert 12A, 100 min

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