Helen Mirren’s latexed and enhanced portrayal of Golda Meir, Israel’s “Iron Lady” prime minister during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, has been overtaken by a debate about “Jewface” casting because Mirren is not Jewish – addressing why Jews are casually excluded from the otherwise fiercely policed sensibilities about authenticity and identity on screen. (Would they get a white actor, for example, to black up as President Anwar Sadat?) It’s a valid and important question, but not exactly the problem in this stately, stuffy and at times almost comatose TV-movie-type drama about tension in Israel’s corridors of power as the Yom Kippur war exploded and the country faced off against Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a battle for its very existence.

This combination of pictures created on January 13, 2023 shows British actress Helen Mirren (L) during a press conference part of the "Homage Dame Helen Mirren" on February 27, 2020 at the 70th Berlinale film festival in Berlin and late and former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir giving a press conference on October 15, 1973 during the Yom Kippur war.

‘For me, she had the Jewish chops to play Golda’: director of Golda Meir film addresses casting Helen Mirren

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Mirren, normally such a sparkling performer, is lumbered with a grey wig, false nose and jowls, with occasional headscarf and handbag, making her look as if she is playing the Queen doing an impression of Richard Nixon. This Golda Meir impassively chainsmokes her way through wooden potted-history dialogue scenes with her military top brass, while everyone blows cigarette smoke at each other; occasionally she takes a break to lie prostrate on a hospital bed, stoically smoking and dying of cancer. Is she going to die? Why not? The film is flatlining.

As a war movie, it’s bafflingly dull; as a political-intrigue drama, it’s lifeless; as a personal portrait of Meir, it’s inert and superficial. Mirren’s portrayal is finally upstaged by archive news footage of the real prime minister animatedly laughing and joking and upstaging Egypt’s Sadat at the peace accord – with a thousand times more energy and presence than the fictional version.Why couldn’t the film have dramatised this scene and given Mirren a chance to shine?

The story is told in flashbacks from Meir’s testimony to the 1974 Agranat Commission, investigating Israel’s military failings in the run-up to the war. Meir appears fatally hesitant in acting on intelligence from Mossad chief Zvi Zamir (Rotem Keinan) that the enemy was about to strike. Defence minister Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) seems uncharacteristically panicked. Lior Ashkenazi does his best with the role of IDF chief Dado Elazar, but otherwise these senior staff, including air force general Benny Peled (Ed Stoppard), sit around like cigarette-smoking waxworks. These sexists are incidentally reluctant to stand when Meir enters the room, but this idea is not pursued.

The one time that the film almost comes to life is when Meir has private talks with Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber), and cunningly bullies, implores and cajoles him to show some loyalty and make Nixon support her. He says diplomatically: “I am first an American, second a secretary of state, third a Jew.” And Meir replies: “In this country, we read from right to left.” It’s a good line, and for a moment, there is a fleeting spark. Otherwise it’s such a lumbering, heavy, solemn film smothered by its own weighty self-consciousness.Golda (Mirren) walks gingerly on swollen feet before sitting down at a table with an ashtray. She smokes heavily as members of the 1974 Agranat Commission nervously prepare to question her over government failures in the Yom Kippur War. Israel took heavy losses, and was caught off guard, but exacted lasting concessions from their Arab neighbors. Victory came at a significant cost. She must answer for her decisions.

The film flashes back to October 3, 1973. Golda is presented with startling military intelligence from her trusted advisors. Zvi Zamir (Rotem Keinan), head of the Mossad, has urgent news from a spy in Cairo. The Egyptians will invade at any moment. Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger), Israel's defense minister, confirms that Syrian fighter jets and tanks have also amassed.