Golda – One woman in a race against time to save millions of lives

Based on a screenplay by Nicholas Martin and directed by Guy Nattiv, Golda is a ticking-clock thriller sharing the intensely dramatic events, high-stake responsibilities, and controversial decisions that Meir – also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Israel’ – had faced during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Her actions, in impossible circumstances, would ultimately decide the fate of millions of lives.

“It is quite a new take on the Golda Meir story,” says screenwriter Nicholas Martin. “What Golda did during those fateful two weeks [was] the story that really captures who Golda was, her toughness and indefatigability.”

“In the sense that she is in the trenches, she is in one location and cannot leave, she’s very alone in the mayhem of the war,” says Director Nattiv, who drew inspiration for the film from Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 antiwar classic Das Boot. “This is a very tough and hard look at the war and every soldier that dies. So for me, it was going in with my eyes open. Golda is not a super clear character in this movie. She had her faults, she made mistakes, and she took responsibility, which leaders are not doing today.”

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir and Rami Heuberger (Moshe Dayan) in Golda. © Aidem Media Limited 2022 / All Rights Reserved

Meir has been played before by Elizabeth Bancroft and Ingrid Bergman — two performances that Helen Mirren said she looked at before “making it (her) own, playing Meir with the deepest of admiration for her and indeed a kind of love for her. “She was an incredible person to enter into and to experience from within.”

“Golda was extraordinarily brave and her commitment to Israel was total,” said Mirren. “It was a bit like playing Elizabeth the First of England, in the sense [of] her commitment to her country and to her nation. She achieved it without being the sort of power-mad sort of dictator character. She was very maternal. She had that wonderful domestic side to her. She was happiest when she was on the kibbutz looking after the chickens, but life took her on a different path.”

On October 6th, 1973, under cover of darkness, on Israel’s holiest day and during the month of Ramadan, the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan begin a surprise attack on the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Outnumbered and outgunned, Israel’s only female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, confronts the immediate, clear, and present danger of a ticking timebomb that she hoped never to face. Surrounded, isolated, and frustrated by the infighting of her all-male cabinet, with little hope of rescue, one woman is in a race against time to save millions of lives on both sides of the conflict.

Q & A with director Guy Nattiv

Israeli film director, screenwriter and producer Guy Nattiv’s film Skin won an Oscar for best short film at the 91st Academy Awards and received IFF Achievement in Film Award at the 33rd Israel Film Festival. focuses on a hate crime and its impact on a skinhead and two young children, one black and one white.

Tell us what Golda is about.

“Golda” focuses on the 10 days of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, when the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir must make some of the most important decisions of her life. This movie is getting under her skin in terms of what she’s going through mentally, physically, and how she is conducting the worst war Israel ever had.

What was it that attracted you to this story?

I’m Israeli, I was born in Israel in 1973, the year of the Yom Kippur War. My mother carried me into the shelter whilst my father went to war. I grew up on stories from the war. There is a very famous song in Israel, Choref Shiv’im Veshalosh (Winter of ’73), which told us that when we’ll be adults there wouldn’t be any more war because the Yom Kippur War was the war to end all wars in Israel. I was raised with a narrative that we were stronger, more powerful and that we won. Golda Meir was a hero. However, what I learned throughout my adult years is that it’s not the case. It was a dreadful war, we lost almost 3000 soldiers. There was a big failure with a lot of units. Within this I found Meir to be a fascinating character, very complicated. Aside from a TV movie in the 1980s, no one had tackled her character in such depth.

Lior Ashkenazi (David “Dado” Elazar) and Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda. © Aidem Media Limited 2022 / All Rights Reserved

Who was the real Golda Meir?

She was very tough. Golda is often called the Margaret Thatcher of Israel. She was really smart, really savvy, and knew a lot about the world. She was a great politician, and how to handle the Americans. She knew how to bring help outside of Israel. Golda was also a woman with principles, and you couldn’t really move her from them. She didn’t trust a lot of people, especially not the Arab leaders, she wasn’t willing to see a broader picture of the Middle East. Golda knew how to treat and deal with people, and she never lost her composure, but her stubbornness also brought her into dire situations. She didn’t have a vision of how to make peace rather than war and terror. As the film depicts, at the time of the war she had cancer and no one knew about it or that she was being secretly driven to a hospital for treatment. It’s fair to say she was a controversial figure.

Why so?

She will always be connected to the failure of Yum Kippur War. Golda was the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. She didn’t want to be a prime minister, but she had to take the job because no one else wanted it at that time. They pushed her to be a prime minister and then she was thrown into this mayhem and trying to deal with the mess. Israelis are so conflicted about her character. Now, if you look outside of Israel, and Jews outside of Israel, they see more of the romantic story of Golda who came from Milwaukee to Israel when she was a young woman, full of Zionism and a hope to help the country. She
was the Iron Lady of Israel and, like Margaret Thatcher, there are some people who love her and some people who hate her.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda. © Aidem Media Limited 2022 / All Rights Reserved

Why was Helen Mirren the perfect person to bring Golda to the screen?

A lot of people ask me how it was working with Helen. I’m always saying that I don’t know how I will work with other actors now, because working with her was so perfect in every sense. When I joined the project Helen was already attached. We had a Zoom in the midst of the COVID pandemic and she asked me why I think she should play Golda. I told her that “You have the soul, you have the intelligence, and you have the vibe of Golda. For me, as an Israeli, and as Jewish, it doesn’t matter if you’re not Jewish, you’re one of the best actresses of our time and you are Golda to me.”

When I saw her on the first day on set with all the prosthetics I was blown away. My jaw dropped and I was like, this IS Golda. She really depicted every nuance and every move. I am very grateful for working with a legend.

And how about her physical transformation into Golda?

The first day I saw Helen as Golda was a rainy day in London. We were doing tests and she came out of her trailer, and I saw only her back. She had the wig on and Golda’s clothes, and I walked behind her. When she turned to me, I was shocked, it was like she was in front of me. Karen Hartley, our hair and makeup designer, has done amazing work with her team.

She has created every nuance in her face, in her hands and every nook and cranny to have Helen become Golda. Helen didn’t want to use too many prosthetics; she wanted us to see the inside of Golda. That’s why we kept Helen’s eyes. We tried a few prosthetics in the neck, on the face and it took us a while but when we got it, we all felt it. It was a brilliant job by Karen. Helen was with her from 4 am every single morning and then it took an hour to take off at the end of the day. I admit I was nervous that we wouldn’t make an uncanny Golda, but when I saw Helen I could release that nervousness and focus on the other things at hand. I’m in awe of the work Karen and her team have done.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir and Liev Schreiber as Kissinger in Golda. © Aidem Media Limited 2022 / All Rights Reserved

In the film, Henry Kissinger is played by Liev Schreiber. Who was Kissinger and what was his role in the war, and with Golda?

Henry Kissinger is an American Jew who was the US Secretary of State at the time of the Yom Kippur War. His relationship with Golda was pretty interesting. Kissinger is Nixon’s guy, and we’re talking about 1973. So, you have all the problems in the White House. He is flying around the world, and he doesn’t feel at home. Then he comes to Israel and Golda is almost like a grandmother to him. She’s getting under his skin, she talks to him like a friend, gives him soup, and provides hospitality in her own home. He has never felt this in another country and perhaps that is what softened him a bit. Golda is smart, and savvy and she’s half-American so she knows how to deal with Americans. Golda always gets what she wants from Kissinger which in this case is a shipment of planes.

What can audiences expect from “Golda”?

“Golda” is a war movie, but without the war. It’s the war of an older woman and the last days of her life. She’s trying to survive her internal war, which is the cancer that is eating her from the inside whilst the country is suffering so much from a surprise attack. She’s losing herself, losing her country, but trying to find a little bit of hope. I want audiences to feel this woman and to understand what she’s going through. Her struggle, her inner struggle because 1973 was such a pivotal point in Israel’s life is as a country.

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Golda. © Aidem Media Limited 2022 / All Rights Reserved

Photo by Christopher Polk

Nicholas Martin (Writer/Producer) began writing feature pieces about his travels and contributing to British newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, and various magazines. In
1989 he won a place at The National Film and Television School to study scriptwriting. He graduated in 1992 and began writing for British TV. His first produced script was for the highly regarded BBC series Between the Lines, which won the BAFTA award for best
series. In 1998 he wrote the comedy-drama series Big Bad World for ITV as well as episodes of Midsomer Murders.

In early 2014, producer Michael Kuhn read Martin’s script Florence Foster Jenkins and optioned it the same day. In 2017 he become interested in the life Golda Meir. He made several research trips to Israel
and interviewed Golda’s family members and colleagues including Zvi Zamir, the former head of Mossad. The extraordinary and largely unknown story of Golda’s leadership during the 1973 Yom Kippur War that he discovered formed the basis for his script “Golda”. He is currently adapting My War Gone By, I Miss it So, Anthony Lloyd’s account of his reporting for The Times from Bosnia during the civil war, whilst struggling with heroin addiction.