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Film Review: The Woman in Gold


The Woman in Gold is a film about the struggle to return an iconic painting by Gustav Klimt. You have probably seen the painting, the real title is Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer; it is very similar to the golden designs in Klimt’s most famous painting called The Kiss.


In this true story of wartime art theft, the rightful heir to the owner of the painting fights to get her property back. Maria Altman, an octogenarian Jewish lady who has lived in America since fleeing from the Nazis in Austria, enlists the help of her fledgling lawyer nephew to return what is rightfully hers. It is, after all, a painting of her favourite aunt Adele. The only problem is that the painting has been sitting in a Vienna museum since the war and has become a symbol of twentieth century Viennese history. Oh, and its value was in the region of $100 million.


The film has many flashbacks, allowing us a glimpse of the wartime horrors of Nazism and anti-Semitism, and the ruthless collection of valuable art works that was also the central theme of the film The Monuments Men last year. These flashbacks allow us into the mind of Maria Altman and show us the bond she formed as a young child with the aunt in the painting.


Helen Mirren, as Maria Altman, plays her role wonderfully well, with plenty of guts and just enough humour to get around what would otherwise be lengthy legal and court-room battles. We don’t spend long on these but develop a deep sympathy for all that the young Maria had to endure in order to escape a Vienna that turned on its Jewish population. The flashbacks are authentic, the terror very real, and the modern-day struggle of Maria and her nephew Randy against the resources of the Austrian Government are very well played. Our young legal hero is at first reluctant to take the case, but has obviously since gone on the fight similar battles, turning them into documentaries and films such as this.


An entertaining film and compelling true story, which sweeps you along and is all the better for two things – the great outcome and Helen Mirren’s brilliant acting. It is also an interesting observation on just how much governments say they want stolen artwork returned and how hard they make it for the real owners to get back what is theirs.


Marcus Hobson


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