Woman in Gold is based on the real life extraordinary story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish woman who escaped the Holocaust and, decades later, sued the Austrian government to return her family’s artworks, which were blatantly stolen by the Nazis when they marched into, and were welcomed by, Vienna in 1938.
Dame Helen Mirren portrays the older Maria from the ‘90s to 2000, the years during which this case played out. And Ryan Reynolds plays Maria’s lawyer Randy Schoenberg, a young talented lawyer who hasn’t quite proven himself just yet.
With Austria under pressure to re-examine its past with the Nazis, a new law was passed in 1998 to introduce greater transparency in the restitution of artworks that were looted by the Nazis. Maria took the opportunity to try and reclaim precious family heirlooms including the titular artwork Woman in Gold, a painting of her beloved aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer by prominent Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.
Her case turned out to be more of an uphill struggle than most because Woman in Gold has become a national treasure of Austria, which the authorities were adamant about keeping in Vienna. With Randy and an Austrian investigative journalist Hubertus Czernin (played by German actor Daniel Brühl), Maria fearlessly fought to be reunited with her family’s belongings, a battle which ended up in the American Supreme Court.
For a film that is packed with so much dialogue – Maria, Randy and Hubertus are constantly discussing strategies – it certainly didn’t feel like a drag! Most likely thanks to the film’s storytelling device as the narrative moves back and forth, juxtaposing the action of the contemporary years and Maria’s childhood memories as well as her traumatic brush with the Nazis in 1938.
This was done quite seamlessly and the gripping accounts of Maria’s past actually keeps the pace going, which, at times, runs the risk of getting bogged down by lengthy conversations.
Admittedly, Woman in Gold isn’t a standout film – there are definitely more extraordinary and affecting depictions of the Holocaust out there – but it’s a gem, a pleasant and structured piece if not a little conventional.
The exercise of restitution is not about recovering material things but the attempt of a community of wronged individuals, who need to recovery their dignity, and see that justice is served before they can close a horrible chapter of their lives.
Mirren is magnificent (as always) as the plucky older Maria while Reynolds delivers a controlled performance as the unwavering Randy, and their interactions are often humourous and touching.
They may seem like an odd pairing at first but they work! And I think it has everything to do with the fact that they’re both simply cool people.
Having said that, I’m so done with nerdy and steadfast Ryan Reynolds – now bring on Deadpool (2016)!!!
Woman in Gold is out in cinemas now.
Have you seen it? Tell us what you think!