British actress Helen Mirren will receive the World Jewish Congress recognition award, the group said in a statement on Wednesday. Mirren will receive the award for her role in the film “Woman in Gold” and for helping to educate the public about the issues of Nazi-looted art. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder will present Mirren with the award at a special event in New York later this year at a date to be determined.
In the film, Mirren portrays Maria Altmann, an Austrian-American woman who made headlines in 2006 by winning her legal battle against the Austrian government to reclaim five Gustav Klimt paintings, among them the famous “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” nicknamed “Woman in Gold.” The woman portrayed by Klimt was Altmann’s aunt.
In 1938, the painting was among the works confiscated from their rightful owner, Adele’s widower Ferdinand, because he was Jewish. Following its restitution to Maria Altmann in 2006, it was acquired by Ronald Lauder and is now on display at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan.
“Being a part of this film and preserving Maria Altmann’s legacy has been a truly exceptional experience from the start,” said Mirren. “I am utterly moved to be receiving an award from the World Jewish Congress, an organization that does such important work all over the globe in advocating for Jewish rights.”
According to Lauder, “The history of the ‘Woman in Gold’ painting exemplifies the immense suffering, painful loss and, for a prolonged period, the injustice that many Jews were subjected to during the 20th century. With the opening of this new movie, audiences can learn about the second half of the Nazi-looted art story: the postwar art grab by governments and museums that willfully continued the Nazi theft, both by hiding the art from the rightful owners or their heirs and by fighting the victims in court to keep the artworks.
“Thanks to Helen Mirren’s stunning performance, the international public will learn about this legacy of World War II which still hasn’t been addressed properly by many governments and museums,” he said in a statement.
Mirren has already portrayed a Jewish woman in the past. In the film “The Debt” (2010), she played a retired Mossad agent, and in preparation for the role reportedly immersed herself in studies of Hebrew, Jewish history, and writings on the Holocaust. Some of the film’s scenes were filmed in Israel.
A leading and supporting lady in British and American films since the mid-1960s, Mirren played notable roles in Robert Altmann’s “Gosford Park,” Peter Weir’s “The Mosquito Coast,” and Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover.” She won an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” a film describing the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana on the British government and royal family.
In preparation for that role, Mirren so thoroughly absorbed the body language and mannerisms of the British monarch that members of the (British) film crew stood up when we she walked on set, momentarily forgetting that they were facing Mirren in costume and not the sovereign.