Helen Mirren: is the Israeli icon Golda Meir a role too far for the dame who does it all? (2022)

Nobody is quite what they seem. And actors? Well, for actors that’s the job. Dame Helen Mirren, as well as being herself for 76 years, has by now notably been Lady Macbeth, a London gangster’s moll, a thief’s wife, an alcoholic cop, an action hero, Prospero and also a British monarch at least four times. Now she takes on Golda Meir, the late prime minister of Israel, in a new biopic, and the casting has caused controversy.

The choice of a non-Jewish actor to star as a woman with such a prominent place in the history of Israel has prompted irritation on both sides of the argument. Another illustrious dame, Maureen Lipman, was first to raise the issue – or “blast” Mirren, according to some reports last week – and then Dame Esther Rantzen defended the director’s choice. It is the latest instance of a ‘Jewface’ row, a backlash to the assignment of a major Jewish role to someone not from that minority background.

But the list of things that Mirren ‘is not’ is long, and it does not necessarily start with ‘not Jewish’. For openers, she is not of English descent. She was born Illiana Lydia Petrovna Mironova into emigre Russian aristocracy in 1945 in Chiswick. This means that her Oscar-nominated role as Leo Tolstoy’s wife Sofya in the 2009 film The Last Station may be the closest to her own natural ‘type’. Certainly, she is not the bun-baking, clothes-shedding Yorkshire woman she played in the 2003 hit Calendar Girls.

In fact, her great grandmother was a White Russian countess and her grandfather, Tsarist officer Pyotr Vassili Mironov, was caught in London, where he had been negotiating an arms deal, after the Bolshevik revolution and was permanently separated from his funds.

(Video) A Woman Called Golda in HD

Mirren’s father was a taxi driver and mother the 13th child of an East End butcher. As a result the actor sees her family as “Chekhovian” displaced gentry, rather than one of Tolstoy’s elite. “I grew up in a middle-class family who were living in a working-class economic situation,” she has explained.

As a Catholic schoolgirl alongside her sister Kate in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, the family Russianness became “an awkward thing you didn’t mention”, Mirren has recalled, although both daughters still have what they call “our soulful Russian moments”.

To please her father, Mirren went to teaching college, but also won a place with the National Youth Theatre. Working at both, she quietly hoped the stage training would pay off first. It did. As a rising star at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 60s, Mirren played Lady Macbeth in 1974 and was duly dubbed Sex Queen of Stratford.

Helen Mirren: is the Israeli icon Golda Meir a role too far for the dame who does it all? (1)

Her often provocative film career kicked off in 1969 with The Age of Consent, in which she was the young object of desire for James Mason. But the long path to stardom she has since followed was far from certain. “When I started acting I felt like I didn’t fit in to the Zeitgeist, if that’s the right word, of British theatrical culture,” she has said. “I wasn’t an ‘English Rosey’ sort of person.”

(Video) Golda (Mirren) Meir

Last week Mirren kept her own counsel on the Jewface dispute, but it is an issue that soon took some illuminating, even amusing turns. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, David Baddiel and Lipman examined the case and largely concurred. “Actors should be allowed to act,” said Baddiel, “But if there is now outrage about casting against type, then why is there no outrage when it comes to Jews?” The writer and comedian went on to point out a string of recent examples of casting non-Jewish actors in substantial Jewish roles, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Joan Rivers. The widespread notion that, to cite the title of Baddiel’s latest book, ‘Jews don’t Count’ when it comes to fair representation, stems, he argues, from the fallacious and “ridiculous” belief there are so many Jews of influence in entertainment that it doesn’t matter.

Praising Mirren and predicting a “fine” performance as Meir, Lipman added that she also is opposed to the kind of “narrow casting” that would see parts matched up closely to an actor’s background and so prevent Benedict Cumberbatch playing a cowboy. Dame Maureen argued, nevertheless, that a Jewish actor should have been considered first and that a Jewish audience will recognise the difference. “Hilda Schwarzkopf from Hendon will know,” she said. The putative Mrs Schwarzkopf has yet to comment.

It will not be the first leading Jewish role Mirren has played. In Woman in Gold, she was Maria Altmann, niece of the muse of Viennese painter Gustav Klimt.. Altmann’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, had been the model for a famous 1907 portrait seized by a Nazi collector. In 2006, after a long legal case, the Klimt was returned to the family by the Austrian state and was sold for £73m. Altmann, who died ten years ago, donated money to arts institutions and Holocaust survivors’ groups. “It was justice,” Mirren said at the time.

Helen Mirren: is the Israeli icon Golda Meir a role too far for the dame who does it all? (2)

Not usually shy of expressing her views, Mirren has called for change in Hollywood, championing the career of black directors and publicly objecting to the surfeit of violence towards women on screen. In 2010 she ticked off an assembled group of Hollywood women, many of them powerful executives, for making films that chiefly served “the 18 to 25-year-old male and his penis”.

(Video) Golda Meir: A Feminist Biography

Happily, things have improved a little for women in the industry since the TV appearance Mirren infamously made at the age of 30 on Parkinson. The chat show host harped on about her physical attributes in a way that she now considers “outrageous”. “I was terrified. I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced. And he was such a fucking sexist old fart.”

Professionally Mirren has herself been accused of being drawn to the edges of acceptability, or perhaps to sheer naughtiness. You might have seen her on screen in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! Or in the louche 1980 film Caligula. Before Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison marched on to small screens in 1992, Mirren was probably still best known as Bob Hoskins’ uninhibited paramour in The Long Good Friday, a part she played when she was 35.

But at 44 she starred in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, involving intimate scenes in a ladies’ loo. Then at 61 she played her first Queen Elizabeth, the Tudor one, in an HBO miniseries that got her properly noticed in America.

Her time as the current Queen, before it became normal for British actors to play Elizabeth II, came with the Stephen Frears film The Queen, which won her an Oscar in 2006. (For Americans, she noted, “You are, for the rest of your life, an Oscar winner. It’s like winning an honour here, it becomes part of your name.)

Helen Mirren: is the Israeli icon Golda Meir a role too far for the dame who does it all? (3)
(Video) Barbra Streisand Sings Hatikvah and Talks to Golda Meir

The actor does not like to repeat herself and has recounted a violent initial reaction to screenwriter Peter Morgan’s invitation to return to the part of Elizabeth on stage in his play The Audience. “You bastard!” she recalled thinking, claiming Morgan had calculated she would not be able to resist. “How could I? And yet at the same time you don’t want to go backward; you really don’t want to be a one-trick pony. And when something has been as successful and as high profile as The Queen was, it’s a dangerous thing.” It was all right, though. She won an Olivier for her portrayal.

Before Mirren met her husband, director Taylor Hackford, 35 years ago on the set of his 1985 film White Nights, her boyfriends were suitably glamorous. The Russian emigre Prince George Galitzine was on her arm in the 1970s and for a while in the 1980s she lived with “my darling Liam Neeson”.

It was he who Mirren said listened when she felt early pangs about ageing: “I remember getting very drunk and just sobbing because he was eight years younger than me: ‘It’s all over. It’s all very well for you, my career is about to come to an end and nobody will ever employ me again and in a few years’ time I will be finished.’”

Neeson, apparently, was “completely unsympathetic”, merely replying, “Ach, shut up.” Today it is evident just how right he was.


Is Helen Mirren playing Golda Meir? ›

Popular on Variety. Helen Mirren, who plays Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic, has broken her silence on the debate around her casting. “Golda,” which wrapped in December and also stars “Call My Agent's” Camille Cottin, is directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv (“Skin”).

Is Helen Mirren a lady? ›

Dame Helen Mirren DBE (born Helen Lydia Mironoff; born 26 July 1945) is a British-American actor. The recipient of numerous accolades, she is the only performer to have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

What was Helen Mirren's first movie? ›

Helen Mirren

Where can I watch Golda? ›

Watch Golda Online | Vimeo On Demand on Vimeo.

Where is Golda being filmed? ›

Is there a trailer for Golda? Sadly there's no Golda trailer available yet, which is a shame as we can't wait to see Helen Mirren in action. We'll put it up on this page as soon as it's released though. At the moment the movie is still being filmed in London and Israel.

Can I watch the Duke on Netflix? ›

Is The Duke on Netflix? Sadly those hoping to watch the film online aren't in luck just yet – for the time being, the film is showing exclusively in cinemas.

Why is Judi Dench called Dame? ›

She was created Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1970 and advanced to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1988. In 2011 she received the Japan Art Association's Praemium Imperiale prize for theatre/film. The following year she announced that she suffered from macular degeneration.

Does Helen Mirren have a tattoo? ›

"I know, it's hard to believe, Dame Helen Mirren does have a tattoo," the British actress told graduates at Tulane University when she delivered their commencement speech in 2017. "I got my tattoo when only Hells Angels, sailors, and convicted felons got them," she continued (via CNBC).

Has Helen Mirren won an Oscar? ›

Helen Mirren

How old was Helen Mirren in the movie age of consent? ›

In her first substantial film role, a then 22-year-old Helen Mirren made a literal and figurative splash, playing a beach babe living on a remote island on the Great Barrier Reef.

How old is Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey? ›

Did Ingrid Bergman play Golda Meir? ›

A Woman Called Golda is a 1982 American made-for-television film biopic of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir directed by Alan Gibson and starring Ingrid Bergman.

What is Helen Mirren's new film called? ›

'Pure joy': Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren are royally charming in art heist film 'The Duke' You won't catch anyone accusing Roger Michell of being edgy or innovative.

Who plays Golda Meir? ›

Golda Meir

Is The Duke worth watching? ›

Critic Reviews for The Duke

A charming, understated and completely enjoyable frolic about how ordinary people can do extraordinary things that seems doubly startling because, while seeming implausible, it also happens to be absolutely true. May 4, 2022 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Is The Duke on Disney plus? ›

CAN I STREAM the DUKE? At present, the film will only be available to watch in theatres. Its distributor, Warner Bros has its own platform in the US, streaming service HBO Max, meaning that The Duke will probably be available on there in the states before anywhere else.

Is The Duke a true story? ›

This highly entertaining comedy drama, starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, is based on the amazing true story of the theft of Goya's painting of the Duke of Wellington from The National Gallery in 1961.

Is Angelina Jolie knighted? ›

Although American citizens cannot technically become dames, Queen Elizabeth gave Angelina Jolie an honorary title for her work in 2014. (Another honorary knight? Steven Spielberg.) It also wasn't her acting work that got her the distinguishment, but rather her advocacy to end sexual violence against women.

What does being a dame mean? ›

dame, properly a name of respect or a title equivalent to lady, surviving in English as the legal designation for the wife or widow of a baronet or knight or for a dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; it is prefixed to the given name and surname.

How do you become a dame in England? ›

“A knighthood, and the female equivalent, a damehood, is an award given by the queen to an individual for a major, long-term, contribution in any activity, usually at a national or international level.” Men who are knighted become Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) and shall be ...

What does Helen Mirren's hand tattoo mean? ›

Academy Award-winning actress. Mirren found solace and inspiration in a Mayan phrase she discovered: "in La'kesh." She had it tattooed on her left hand. "In La'Kesh," she explains, means "You are my other self. We are one. I am another yourself."

Is Helen Mirren of Russian descent? ›

Mirren was born in London of a Russian-born father and a Scottish mother. (The family's last name was Mironoff until Helen's father decided to Anglicize it when she was 10 years old.) She joined Britain's National Youth Theatre at age 18 and the Royal Shakespeare Company a year later.

Does Charlize Theron have tattoos? ›

Charlize Theron has at least 2 known tattoos: koi fish on her ankle. flower on her foot.

What was Helen Mirren in Harry Potter? ›

Was Helen Mirren in Harry Potter? No, despite the fact that many legendary performers appeared throughout the franchise, Helen Mirren never appeared in any of the eight movies.

Is Helen Mirren in a relationship? ›

Helen Mirren thinks her marriage to film director husband Taylor Hackford has gone the distance because they spend time apart. Dame Helen Mirren has opened up about spending quality time with her husband Taylor Hackford for the first time in 30 years.

Is woman in gold a true story? ›

Woman in Gold is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jewish woman who escaped the Nazis and found a home in the US, from where, in 1999, as an old woman, she began a sensational legal campaign to reclaim from the Austrian government several paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis – chiefly ...

How old is Helen Mirren supposed to be in Catherine the Great? ›

I have only seen the first episode but so far this is what I think ... Firstly, Helen Mirren was the absolutely wrong choice. She is 72 years old playing a character who is supposed to be in her mid 30's. Catherine the Great didn't even live to 72 .. she died in her 60's.

Why wasn t Helen Mirren in Harry Potter? ›

Helen Mirren makes debut as 'Harry Potter' quiz host despite being 'upset' over film omission. LOS ANGELES — Helen Mirren is oddly absent from the Harry Potter film franchise that proved close to a full-employment act for Britain's acting greats. But she's found her own path into its magical world.

Which house won Harry Potter tournament of houses? ›

After four tantalizing head-to-head battles between the Houses, the title of House Cup champion goes to none other than Hufflepuff!

Is Helen Mirren a Harry Potter fan? ›

We were fortunate enough to find out that Helen Mirren was a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. Before we reached out to anybody at all, she was kind of number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on the list.

How many lovers has Helen Mirren had? ›

Mirren, who has been married to director Taylor Hackford for 22 years, said, "I've had probably three or four serious lovers." (Notably, one was Liam Neeson.) I was serially monogamous until I met my husband. And now I'm just monogamous."

Is Helen Mirren related to Liam Neeson? ›

Dame Helen Mirren, 74, is an award-winning British actress. She lived with actor Liam Neeson for four years during the early 1980s and has admitted it was a difficult relationship to let go of. Helen is now married to director Taylor Hackford, who she has been with since 1986, the pair got married in 1997.

How much is Helen Mirren? ›

Dame Helen Mirren is an English actress who has a net worth of $100 million dollars.

What happened to Maria Altman? ›

Maria Altmann, who escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna as a newlywed and returned to wage a triumphant fight to recover Gustav Klimt's iconic gold portrait of her remarkable aunt, has died. She was 94. Altmann died Monday at her Cheviot Hills home after a long illness, said family friend E. Randol Schoenberg.

Where is the woman in gold necklace? ›

The result was the return of all the Klimt paintings. Jewish philanthropist Ronald Lauder bought the Woman in Gold portrait for $135 million to display at his museum, the Neue Galerie in New York.

How much is the woman in gold painting worth? ›

She sold it the same year for $135 million, at the time a record price for a painting to the businessman and art collector Ronald Lauder, who placed the work in the Neue Galerie, the New York-based gallery he co-founded.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
LocationNeue Galerie, New York
5 more rows

How did Catherine the Great get rid of Peter? ›

Peter was forced to abdicate just six months after he took the throne. Peter was officially overthrown on June 28, 1762 when Catherine and Orlov mounted a coup, leading 14,000 soldiers on horseback to the Winter Palace and forcing Peter to sign abdication paperwork. He was immediately jailed.

Was Catherine the Great a good ruler? ›

She led her country into full participation in the political and cultural life of Europe. She championed the arts and reorganized the Russian law code. She also significantly expanded Russian territory. Today Catherine is a source of national pride for many Russians.

Where is Catherine filmed? ›

Catherine the Great (miniseries)
Catherine the Great
ProducerJules Hussey
Production locationsLithuania Latvia Russia
CinematographyStuart Howell
EditorsStuart Gazzard Selina MacArthur
17 more rows


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