‘Helen became her on a spiritual and cellular level’; 1st clip released from ‘Golda’

Mirren ‘adds a brilliant layer of soul, wisdom, humor and courage to the character of Golda,’ says director Guy Nattiv amid controversy over casting

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in HBO's 'Golda.' (Jasper Wolf)
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in HBO's 'Golda.' (Jasper Wolf)

Oscar-winning Israeli director Guy Nattiv has released the first look at the long-awaited biopic starring British actor Helen Mirren as Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, days ahead of its world premiere at the Berlin film festival.

The clip from “Golda,” released to the US entertainment site Deadline on Friday, is set at the height of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and shows a tense telephone exchange between Meir and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, played by Liev Schreiber.

In the scene, Meir refuses to back down from pressure from Kissenger, even as he warns her that Soviet forces are poised to join the fight against Israel.

“Let me tell you about the Russians, Henry. When I was a child in Ukraine, at Christmas time my father would board up the windows of our house to protect us from Cossacks who would get drunk and attack Jews,” Meir says.

“My father would hide us in the cellar… my father’s face, Henry, I will never forget that look. All he wanted to do was protect his children. I am not that little girl hiding in the cellar.”

Nattiv says the scene both highlights Meir’s best qualities and Mirren’s abilities to portray them.

Israeli Premier Golda Meir during a press conference at the Israeli Embassy in Rome, January 15, 1973. (AP Photo/Giuseppe Anastasi)

“As someone who grew up with Golda as a heroic myth, almost beyond human, and as the only female prime minister in the history of the Middle East, I want people to see how Helen adds a brilliant layer of soul, wisdom, humor and courage to the character of Golda,” Nattiv told Deadline.

“I remember shooting this scene and when we went in for Helen’s close up I had goosebumps as she played Golda recalling her haunted childhood so perfectly. Helen became Golda on a spiritual and cellular level, and this moment was electrifying to watch,” he added.

Nattiv had faced criticism for casting Mirren, who is not Jewish, to play one of Israeli history’s most iconic figures.

Fellow British actor Maureen Lipman told the Jewish Chronicle last year that she doubted the choice because she considered Meir’s religion to be “integral” to her character.

“I’m sure she will be marvelous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there,” Lipman was quoted as saying, referring to the actor of Indian and English descent who famously played Gandhi.

Mirren, whose performance as Elizabeth II in “The Queen” garnered an Academy Award in 2008, has called the questions about her identity “utterly legitimate” and said she also wondered whether it was appropriate for her to play Meir.

She told The Daily Mail last year that she had said to Nattiv that he should carefully consider whether she was the right person for the part.

“But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went,” Mirren said.

Actress Helen Mirren talks to media during a news conference during the 70th International Film Festival Berlin, Berlinale in Berlin, Germany, February 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

One of the signatories of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Meir served as premier from 1969 until 1974.

Her time in power was marked by the Yom Kippur War, sparked by a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that Israel was only able to defeat after setbacks that caused severe losses.

“Golda” will be screened for the first time on Monday. The festival said it would screen in its Berlinale Special sidebar section, out of competition.

The 11-day event, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year, kicked off on February 16.

US actor Kristen Stewart will lead the festival jury, while Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is due to pick up an Honorary Golden Bear prize for lifetime achievement.

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