"Golda": The smoke, fire, and ultimate surprise of the Helen Mirren-led Golda Meir film

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“Golda”: The smoke, fire, and ultimate surprise of the Helen Mirren-led Golda Meir film

September 1, 2023 -

Helen Mirren poses for photographers at the premiere for the film 'Golda' during the International Film Festival 'Berlinale', in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

Helen Mirren poses for photographers at the premiere for the film 'Golda' during the International Film Festival 'Berlinale', in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

Helen Mirren poses for photographers at the premiere for the film 'Golda' during the International Film Festival 'Berlinale', in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

I’ve been told all my life, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And, while I’ve always accepted that as fact, my recent viewing of Golda gives irrefutable evidence. You’ll see what I mean as you read further.

Those of us of a “certain age” (boomers and older) know exactly who “Golda” is without hearing a last name. And, by the unfortunately sparse attendance in the theater in which I viewed this new-release film, almost all of us were of that “certain age.”

Many of us came to pay homage.

Who was Golda Meir? And what does Golda cover?

Golda Meir was a formative, strong world leader in an age when women were still finding their place at the international leadership table. She was an icon of Israel’s grit, determination, and resiliency that she and her country dramatically displayed in the mid and later parts of the twentieth century while surrounded by Arab forces bent on destroying them.

The movie was an interesting mix of actual Yom Kippur War footage with a limited revelation of the multidimensional personality of Israel’s first (and, as of now, only) female prime minister.

While she was also a wife, mother, and grandmother, we saw none of that. Really, the movie is more about the dynamics and foibles of her inner circle than it was a biography of the prime minister.

The movie sparingly revealed her more maternal side through her relationship with staff and government officials. Her visible grief over the deaths of Israeli soldiers uncovered a more emotional, compassionate side of her nature as well. Some limited humor, especially with the then-American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, solicited laugh-out-loud moments.

But on full display was the cognitive, steely leadership dimension of Golda’s personality and her role as a wartime prime minister. The movie covers only the handful of days during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

There were some surprises.

Golda’s smoke and fire

For instance: smoke, and lots of it.

Golda Meir could have been the poster child of chain-smokers. She was almost constantly engulfed in a swirl of smoke. But, even in the smoky haze, her intense fire was clear.

Thus, my opening comment.

But many of the scenes also included her mostly secret treatments for her (ultimately fatal) lymphoma. Every time she entered the medical facility for treatment, she entered through a morgue of bodies from the war.

Each time, the number of bodies grew greater.

And, during each scene of her treatments, she continued to smoke.

Another surprise for me was (spoiler alert) the revelation of a tragic failure of her team to turn on the secretly implanted listening devices in Arab military leadership facilities. That oversight led to the surprise element of the Arab’s October 1973 attack on Israel’s holiest religious observance, Yom Kippur.

A defining moment of Golda Meir’s character is revealed in how she handled that tragic mistake.

How to destroy your enemies

For some, the ultimate surprise in the movie Golda is revealed at the end in some actual footage from the cease-fire agreement ceremony shepherded by then-President Jimmy Carter. Meir and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat were earlier depicted as bitter enemies. But, after the horrors of war they’d inflicted on each other, their apparently congenial rapport and surprisingly light banter seem incongruous if not inexplicably shameful.

“Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?” There are several possible sources for that quote: Emperor Sigismund, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and other notables. But the truth of it is sometimes difficult to accept in a world that insists on an “I win/you lose” philosophy. While still fraught with many challenges, Israel and Egypt have progressed with no further war with each other.

Perhaps Meir and Sadat both won. Their citizens certainly have.

Golda is worth your time whether you know much about the key figures or strategic elements of the Yom Kippur War. And the amazing transformation of the personable British actress Helen Mirren into the curmudgeonly Meir is nothing short of Oscar-worthy acclaim.

Shalom and salaam.

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