It’s been exactly 124 years since the birth of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir on May 3, 1898. Yet this year, more than most others, the first Israeli woman prime minister is inspiring the imaginations of some pretty high profile creators.
There are currently two really exciting projects that not only feature the controversial Israeli politician but center her life story, in the works. The first is Guy Nattiv’s film “Golda,” starring Helen Mirren (in heavy facial prosthetics) as the prime minister in the late days of her life, as she was faced with the Yom Kippur War.
Another project, a TV series titled “Lioness” based on a biography by the same name, is helmed by none other than Barbra Streisand. It will star “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox” actress Shira Haas as Meir, starting in her early days as Golda Mabovitch in Milwaukee, then as an Israeli kibbutznik before taking us to her days as a member of the Knesset and finally as the first female Israeli prime minister.
It’s hard to say why this appears to be the golden age of Golda. Is it that America has its first woman vice president? The end of Angela Merkel’s tenure as Germany’s first female chancellor? The lauding of female leaders like New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, or the exploration of female leaders in shows like “The Crown”? Perhaps all of the above.
These new productions won’t be Meir’s first time in the pop culture spotlight. She’s been played by amazing Jewish and non-Jewish actresses in the past, like the iconic Lynn Levy who portrayed her in the award-winning Spielberg movie “Munich.” Anne Bancroft originated the role of Meir on Broadway in William Gibson’s 1997 play “Golda.” The 1982 movie “A Woman Called Golda” starred Ingrid Bergman and Leonard Nimoy as Meir’s husband Morris Meyerson. And Tovah Feldshuh took on the role in Gibson’s 2003 play, “Golda’s Balcony,” and the subsequent film that came out in 2019. Feldshuh also played Meir in the 2006 French movie “O, Jerusalem.”
Yet these two upcoming projects are probably the most star-studded adaptations of Meir in a very, very long time, and helmed by award-winning directors, producers and writers.
Nattiv started shooting “Golda” back in November of 2021 and wrapped shooting in late December. It was filmed in London with a set that simulated “an entire Israel 1973 authentic reality.” French actress Camille Cottin co-stars in the movie as Meir’s confidante Lou Kaddar.
Nattiv has won an Academy Award for his short “Skin,” a movie that garnered some controversy for its subject matter. The director has also received some criticism for casting Mirren, who is not Jewish, in the main role. Mirren herself said she brought this to the director’s attention.
“[Meir] is a very important person in Israeli history,” she said. “I said, ‘Look Guy, I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction, no hard feelings. I will absolutely understand.’ But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went.”
“I have long been an admirer of the great Helen Mirren who has melted so brilliantly into Golda Meir’s character with incredible talent, intelligence, depth and emotion, doing justice to the richness and complexity of this incredible woman,” Nattiv wrote on Instagram.
As for “Lioness,” we still don’t know when the TV show will premiere, but it’s arguably even more intriguing than Nattiv’s movie. The project will be written by Emmy winner Eric Tuchman, who previously wrote for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Mimi Leder, also an Emmy winner, will be directing. She previously directed the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic “On the Basis of Sex,” as well as the Damon Lindelof masterpiece “The Leftovers.” Shira Haas is known for her emotionally wrenching performances, so we’re hoping this will be a cerebral trip into the Jewish leader’s life.
The fascination with Golda Meir reminds me of Gillian Anderson’s amazing portrayal of an even more controversial female leader, Margaret Thatcher, in “The Crown.” It was, in my opinion, one of the best performances of 2021 — Thatcher’s character, despite not being exactly likable, was so complex and compelling. These projects are definitely an opportunity for a similar style of storytelling, though I fear that they may end up becoming a bit more idolatrous.
From a storytelling perspective, Meir’s life was complex and nuanced — she was a historical female leader who refused to embrace feminism, a woman who loved the idea of being a matriarch but who had a difficult relationship with her own husband and family, an American who became an Israeli but used her roots to her advantage. She’s also a leader who has a firm place in history but is at the same time remembered for leading Israel during one of its most devastating, harrowing moments, the Yom Kippur War, and who resigned from leadership in shame. There’s so much that’s worth exploring in the story of Meir — and I hope these new projects will provide just that.
My best guess is both of these projects will be released sometime in late 2022 and 2023. When they do, they’ll be introducing a whole new generation to an Israeli leader who made history. “Golda” is already making its way into some Oscar prediction lists — so it seems like we have a lot to look forward to.