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Mirren shines as mighty Golda – prosthetics and all

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Golda, with Helen Mirren, is certainly worth going to see, especially if you have a penchant for Israel and history. I left the cinema having learnt a great deal about a phenomenal woman leader, the history of Israel, outstanding acting, and chain smoking.

Mirren may not be Jewish, and definitely used prosthetics and a whole lot more to make her look so much like Golda, but I cannot hold that against her. She was Golda. She encapsulated everything I know about the woman and the icon, and so much more.

Golda had jowls and a good yiddishe shnoz (nose). Mirren, who definitely doesn’t have either, had jowls and a serious nose in the movie. Golda wasn’t the most attractive woman, while Mirren undoubtedly is even in her autumn years – I can say this as a woman. In the movie, Mirren was pure Golda – facial hair, wrinkles, heavy ankles, stoop, and all.

At first, I thought, looking for faults, that she didn’t sound Israeli enough, but having just listened to an interview with the original Golda Meir in English, Mirren actually sounded like her.

The movie showed that though Golda was known as the “Iron Lady” of Israel”, she was far more of a nurturing and caring leader than her British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher. She didn’t try and lead like a man, she did show emotion and care about people she knew. She was tough, but human.

However, she smoked like a chimney or three. I do hope Mirren went for a detox after the boxes and boxes of cigarettes she must have smoked just on screen.

I certainly felt her pain at the huge loss of life during the Yom Kippur War, and her devastation at not being able to stop the losses. I felt her steel herself to show her country the strong leader it needed to see, but her vulnerability was obvious when she was alone with her personal assistant, Lou Kaddar, played by Camille Cottin.

The acting all around was good, but Mirren was clearly the star. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the actor who played Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) or many of the male leads, which was the weakness in the film. The actor who played the small role of Ariel Sharon was more believable, if a bit oafish.

However, Mirren brings to life a part of our history, exactly 50 years ago, that most of us may not know too much about. It also portrays a leader who put her country and her people first and foremost, above her health and her survival – political and personal. She was willing to take the fall for any of the mistakes she or those around her made because she was a true leader.

But it was the woman sitting next to me in the theatre that brought home the real pain of Golda’s time and the reality behind the movie.

She’s an Israeli who lived through the Yom Kippur War and recalled how in her town up north, she had at least five close relatives fighting on the front. She said the fear they experienced was nothing she had ever experienced before or since.

“Every day, we waited to hear who was on the lists of the dead. There were too many.

“I remember saying to my husband on the night of Yom Kippur that I thought there was an earth tremor until I realised looking out the window that it was rows and rows of tanks heading to the border. We could hear the war, and it was terrifying,” she said. “We couldn’t sleep in fear of who wasn’t going to come home safely.

“It was then that I chose to come to South Africa. I needed to breathe again. It was the most difficult time of our lives.”

Fifty years after the facts, Mirren brings to life Golda and an Israel we love.

  • Peta Krost is the editor of the SA Jewish Report.

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