Jewface row ’embarrassing’ says Golda Meir’s grandson at Jewish News film screening

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Jewface row ’embarrassing’ says Golda Meir’s grandson at Jewish News film screening

Gideon Meir was speaking at first showing of biopic of Israel's first female prime minister featuring Helen Mirren at JW3.

Golda Meir, JW3
Golda Meir, JW3

Golda Meir’s grandson and the English screenwriter of the new biopic of Israel’s only woman prime minister have hit out at the “Jewface” row that has dogged the film, starring Dame Helen Mirren.

“I find myself embarrassed talking about this issue. I can’t even pronounce it – Jewface – it’s embarrassing,” said Gideon Meir at a Jewish News preview event at London’s JW3.

Golda is released across the UK today, the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which defined the legacy of Israel’s “Iron Lady”.

“Does it mean that Jews should only be allowed to play Jews?” asked Meir. “It’s a very racist thing. You know, another Jewish dame came up with this, that she’s not comfortable about her great colleague playing her. My brother says that Golda wasn’t just Jewish, she was a huge person for all humans.”

Dame Maureen Lipman kicked off the debate last year, saying she disagreed with the casting “because the Jewishness of the character is so integral. I’m sure she [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”

Nicholas Martin, screenwriter and producer, said “all of the identity stuff” has been “something of a pain in the arse, spending the last eight months endlessly discussing it with people who don’t actually believe in it themselves. I just sort of sometimes weep for poor Helen who is so diplomatic. And I’m less diplomatic.”

Martin said that when he met Meir in Israel over “a very boozy lunch”, Golda’s grandson – who is a fan of ITV’s Prime Suspect – was “very emphatic that [Mirren] was the one that we had to get”. The screenwriter of Florence Foster Jenkins, a biopic of another “indefatigable woman”, said he penned the script as “a loose-fitting suit”, which Mirren tailored each day to fit her.

“We spent half an hour every morning going through what we were going to shoot that day. With 60 years of experience, she knows what to do. So she sat there with her blue pen every morning [saying] ‘I don’t need that!’, going through it. And I’d retype it all.”

Wearing his grandmother’s gold brooch, a replica of which is donned by Mirren, Meir said the movie, directed by Guy Nattiv, was healing old wounds in Israel, where her handling of the 1973 conflict that cost the lives of 2,656 Israeli soldiers still polarises opinion.

“People write to me and I hear from friends – they feel that it gives them solace, it gives them a balm for this heavy tragedy. And I think that’s what we all need.”

Speaking of his relatives who were also consulted on the script, he added: “It’s not about us. It’s about her legacy and her name, and the truth. And as Israelis, we all need this, because we need the truth, and we need this kind of closure.”

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