Beautifully filmed, Woman in Gold tells the story of one woman in about 100,000 whose family’s art works were stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Maria Altmann (Mirren) and her well-to-do Jewish family lived in Vienna at the time, and had acquired now-famous paintings and jewelry, most notably Gustav Klimpt’s Woman in Gold. Newly wed, Maria and her husband Fritz (Irons) arranged to flee before they were sent to a concentration camp, but had to leave her parents behind along with, of course, all valuables.
The two made it to the U.S., and her sister followed. Years pass, her husband and sister have died, and Maria finds some old correspondence that reminds her of her aunt—of whom she has very fond memories—and the Klimpt painting of her. She questions why it is in an Austrian museum instead of being returned to the family heirs. She has a friend whose son is a lawyer, and Maria asks to talk with him and show him the letters.
The two don’t exactly hit it off; he seems slightly boorish to her, and she seems troublesome—even rude—to him. But there is something that compels them to persist in the project to reclaim the paintings legally. This will be a difficult task, partly because the Austrians have so “owned” the Klimpt paintings, they’ve become a national treasure, and obviously, the museum will not let the paintings go lightly.
The film draws on the lives of two real people, E. Randol Schoenberg and Maria Altmann for the story, from which Alexi Kaye Campbell wrote the screenplay. That gives it an authenticity and a sense of history-in-the-making that a film such as this needs. The film The Monuments Men (2014) attempted a story on the Nazis’ making off with thousands of art works, but it lacked the personal and present connection that this film possesses, which might make a difference in its popularity with the general population.
Simon Curtis’ (My Week with Marilyn) art in directing is visibly apparent, with Campbell’s strong script, Martin Phipps’ and Hans Zimmer’s music, and the cinematography of Ross Emery. Adding to the artful mix are the performances of Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Mirren is at her usual inimitably strong talent for bringing a character alive, but the surprise is Ryan Reynolds who, as the attorney showing persistence, frustration, dismay, and sheer determination, gives his very best performance.
A heart-rending and historically meaningful film.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland