Helen Mirren inhabits ‘amazing character’ of ‘Golda’ Meir

BERLIN – Golda Meir once ranked among the world’s most famous and celebrated women.

That was in the 1970s, when Meir presided as Israel’s first and so far only female Prime Ministers. Ingrid Bergman, Hollywood’s Oscar-winning legend, played Meir in a TV movie while Oscar-winner and “Graduate” star Anne Bancroft played Meir on Broadway.

Prime Minister for five years, she made headlines with her response and resolve to the Munich Olympics Massacre in 1972.

With Helen Mirren on big screens nationwide as Meir in “Golda,” opening Friday, the focus is not on her life but on the two weeks of her dramatic stewardship and career-ending controversies surrounding Israel’s 1973 Yom Kippur War. For 12 days Israel repelled invading Syrians and Egyptians whose surprise attack decimated Israel’s military.

“There’s been a tremendous amount written about Golda. There might be 100 biographies,” noted screenwriter Nicholas Martin (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). “This is quite a new take — on her leadership during the Yom Kippur War.  It’s the story we wanted to tell. It captures her toughness.”

Mirren, 78, attended the film’s Berlin premiere last February. “What fascinated me and what was most tricky was that she was an incredible person to enter and experience within, which is what we as actors have to do. I came away from this with the deepest admiration for her and indeed I have a kind of a love for her.

“She was extraordinarily brave with a commitment to Israel which was total. In a weird way it was like playing Elizabeth of England, with her commitment to the nation and total dedication of her life to that.

“And she achieved it without being power mad or a dictator-type character. She always was very maternal. What I have in common with her: She loved kitchen equipment. I’m always buying the latest kitchen equipment! She had that wonderful domestic side of her. She was happiest on the kibbutz taking care of children but she took that other path and was an amazing character to inhabit.”

As to comparing Meir and her most famous role as Queen Elizabeth II, “If it was equivalent,” she noted, “it was Elizabeth I of course” – both women waged war.

“Elizabeth II,” Mirren continued, “had that dedication too, on that level. Golda was a more emotionally repressive person than Elizabeth. She was very passionate but very practical as well.”

For research, Mirren did watch Bergman’s performance (“Quite wonderful but from that point on you make it your own”).

“It’s not a biopic,” she emphasized, “it’s a little section of her life when she was most challenged.”

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