'A labour of love'


A new film Golda, currently showing in Australian cinemas, explores Meir’s legacy in light of this new understanding

Helen Mirren stars as Golda Meir in Golda.
Helen Mirren stars as Golda Meir in Golda.

Outside of Israel, Golda Meir is often celebrated for being Israel’s first female prime minister, but within Israel she has been derided and largely blamed for the intelligence failures of the Yom Kippur War.

When on October 6, 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked Israel, catching it by surprise, in the first few days Israel suffered many casualties, but was ultimately able to win the war. However, the release of declassified intelligence around 10 years ago has challenged the assertion that Meir was the only one to blame for the intelligence failings, and instead points to the poor advice she received from her military advisers.

A new film Golda, currently showing in Australian cinemas, explores Meir’s legacy in light of this new understanding. The film follows Meir during the 19 days of war and brings us into the room with her as she makes critical decisions based on the intelligence she receives.

Director Guy Nattiv.

Its director, Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won an Oscar for his 2018 short film Skin, spoke to The AJN about this approach. Nattiv said, “It was really easy for a lot of people to blame a woman, especially a woman who didn’t grow up in Israel.” Meir was born in 1898 in Kiev and immigrated to the US in 1906, growing up in Milwaukee, before immigrating to Palestine in 1921. Meir was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, was elected to the Knesset in 1949, appointed foreign minister in 1956, and became prime minister in 1969. Nattiv noted that even though the Agranat Commission set up to investigate the failures of the Yom Kippur War did not find her solely to blame, Meir still resigned.

Nattiv said that growing up in Israel he was fascinated with the question: why does everyone seem to hate her so much? He believes that the declassified intelligence revealed “a completely different picture from what we got as kids” which presented “an opportunity to give her a different portrait.”

Golda is also personal for Nattiv as he was a baby during the Yom Kippur War, and his father served in the Israeli army.

Golda Meir (Helen Mirren) pouring soup for Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber) in Golda.

The film also humanises Meir, following her as she secretly receives treatment for cancer during the war.

Helen Mirren plays Meir and with the help of extensive makeup and prosthetics, her appearance, mannerism and voice seem just right. Commenting on having Mirren as Meir, Nattiv said, “She’s one of the best actors of our time, obviously, and she’s so delightful to work with.”

Also brilliant is Liev Schreiber as US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. A line in the movie said to have occurred in real life, was when Kissinger said to Meir privately, “Golda, you must remember that first I am an American, second I am secretary of state and third I am a Jew.” Meir responded, “Henry, you forget that in Israel we read from right to left.”

Watching Golda, which first premiered in February 2023, one cannot help but be struck by the parallels with the intelligence failures of October 7, 2023 – when Hamas’s attack caught Israel by surprise. Asked what parallels he saw, Nattiv said, “The parallels I see mostly is about dysfunctional government … The big difference is that back then it was an army versus an army. And on October 7, it was civilians that gave their lives for this debacle … And another thing is that it didn’t take long for that government from 1973 to just resign … what we see today in Israel is that there’s a prime minister under investigation that is hanging onto his chair and does not want to go, including his ministers … It’s the same cycle of blindness … but on a grander scale.”

Golda Meir with her military advisers in Golda.

Nattiv noted that after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 “the whole chain of command resigned … [Menachem] Begin came to power, and [Egypt’s Anwar] Sadat and Begin made a peace that saved millions of lives.”

On the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, “I truly want to see different leadership in Israel and different leadership in Palestine … maybe younger leadership that will understand that we need to live together … I believe in the two-state solution. I do believe that it can happen with a new leadership.”

Nattiv also speaks out against antisemitism on his social media, and in the aftermath of the October 7 attack raised awareness of Hamas’s atrocities which included visiting the sites of massacres in Israel.

He is also in the middle of promoting another special film – Tatami – which is about an Iranian judoka who defies the orders of Iran. It was written by Nattiv and he co-directs it with Iranian filmmaker Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in France.

Commenting on Tatami, Nattiv said it was inspired by the wave of Iranian athletes who were defying the Iranian regime, and also in honour of “the amazing uprising of women in Iran”.

On co-directing with Ebrahimi, Nattiv said, “I think it’s a labour of love … We felt that we are brothers and sisters, and it’s the governments that are not letting us become friends. Obviously, the Iranian government is much more toxic and much more insane, but in a normal situation, Iranians and Israelis would probably be family.”

Golda is now playing in cinemas.

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