In Golda, Helen Mirren’s customary skill and powerful presence embody a world leader during time of crises. Though make-up adds well-known features of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to the package, Mirren’s face transcends prosthetics and lets small details of emotions shine through in a performance that involves nuances rather than broad gestures. This suits the format provided by screenwriter Nicholas Martin and director Guy Nattiv, who focus on a 20-day period that almost destroyed Israel. Calling herself a politician, not soldier, Golda nonetheless made strategic decisions, often working with too little or incorrect information and sometimes leading to devastating results. These situations come through audio more often that visual, with director Nattiv relying on close ups of equipment or hands or feet and most wisely, Mirren’s eyes, still burning through contact lenses and other make up. While the decision to present the war room rather than battlefield makes sense on some levels, it also lessens understanding of logistics and—no surprise—spectacle. Golda suffers from the dryness of a history lesson, not inappropriate but slow at times. Justifiable restraint aside, Nattiv makes one puzzling decision towards the end when he inserts black and white news footage of the real Golda meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat rather than allowing Mirren and another performer to re-enact the incident.
No question Mirren could handle the challenge, and the scene provides the film’s only instance of the warmth and humor that won Golda over to many of her detractors. But rather than mourn a missing element, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate what shows up, a striking performance and an illuminating look at an important time in history.