Berlinale 2023 Review: GOLDA, Biopic Becomes War Drama

Helen Mirren and Liev Schreiber star; Guy Nattiv directed.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2023 Review: GOLDA, Biopic Becomes War Drama

Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv (Skin, Magic Men) is known for exploring themes of identity, otherness, and social justice, with a focus on characters who are marginalized or excluded from mainstream society. His latest work, Golda, takes a bit of a detour, as he ventures into biopic territory.

Golda Meir takes center stage in Nattiv's film, the first woman to serve as the Prime Minister of Israel (1969 to 1974), who was one of the first women in the world to serve as a head of government in a democratic country. Nevertheless, the writer Nicholas Martin (Florence Foster Jenkins) and the director selected a tiny glimpse into Meir's career: the Yom Kippur War in October 1973.

Meir's tenure as Prime Minister was marked by several controversial decisions. including the Yom Kippur War, and she was known for her assertive and often confrontational style. The film is framed by an interrogation after the Yom Kippur War fallout, when Meir was already in poor health. She is explaining and justifying her decisions in front of the Agranat Commission, which is trying to understand what happened behind the scenes of the conflict.

Golda falls in the category of chamber films screened at Berlinale, alongside Inside and #Manhole. While the mentioned are mostly one-man shows, and Golda is in a sense a one-woman show, the Prime Minister of Israel remains encircled by a big testosterone party, as she leads an all-male cabinet (The Only Woman in the Room is the title of Meir's biography).

In Nattiv's film, Meir is the only woman of power among the military men and Mossad representatives. Other women in the gravitational field of the prime minister are either PAs or typists.

Throughout the film, Meir is mostly inside, holed up in her office, a meeting room, or an underground war room. She leaves only to see the light of the day on a roof, while smoking and pondering heavy thoughts.

Nattiv's film feels like an adaptation of a theater piece, which is not necessarily a bad concept,  bringing a twist to the conventions of war dramas. The bloody unfolding on the battlefield is intercepted from military communications between army men and their lieutenants. The suspense and horror come from not knowing what´s really happening, and from anticipating how the risky decisions taken between the four walls of the war room will pan out.

Golda is, firstly, a behind-the-scenes war drama, and, secondly, a biopic, as Nattiv and Martin do not probe into the private life of their protagonist. The biggest intrusion into her life is when Martin makes a repetitive motif of her health checks. The revelation is that Meir was leading a two-front battle: facing off against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan on the battlefield, and with cancer in her body.

Golda is also a one-woman show because of the leading actress. Helen Mirren (Catherine the Great, The Queen) portrays the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics hidden under heavy prosthetics. Despite a rather two-dimensional depiction of the character, Mirren's casting for the central role has been surefire, and she delivers a strong performance as a chain-smoking grandmother of Israel. Among all of the interactions, the most memorable is with Henry Kissinger, played by Liev Schreiber. The scenes serve as a rare comic valve amid the war-room pressure.

Nattiv shapes the film as a an inspiring feminist story, led by a protagonist who shattered the glass ceiling and defied gender stereotypes. And that is certainly part of Golda Meir's legacy. However, Golda does not reevaluate the central subject's life or decisions that would not be considered feminist -- Meir did not appoint a single woman to her cabinet, hence remaining "the only woman in the room" -- but dramatizes a tiny sliver of it.

From the point of view of investment into the life of the protagonist, Golda is more a suspense-filled chamber war drama and less of a biopic. 

The film enjoyed its world premere at Berlinale 2023. Visit the festival's official page for more information.


  • Guy Nattiv
  • Nicholas Martin
  • Helen Mirren
  • Zed Josef
  • Claudette Williams
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Berlinale 2023GoldaGuy NattivHelen MirrenLiev SchreiberUKNicholas MartinZed JosefClaudette WilliamsBiographyDramaHistory

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