English actress Maureen Lipman has lashed out at the casting of Helen Mirren as Israel’s first female Prime Minister Golda Meir in the upcoming film, Golda. Stating that Jewishness was an “integral” part of the character, Lipman added that Helen’s casting was like featuring Ben Kingsley as Nelson Mandela. Speaking to The Jewish Chronicle, the 75-year-old expressed her discomfort with the idea of Mirren, who is not Jewish, playing Meir on screen. Lipman stated, “I’m sure [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”
Meir was Israel’s Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. The upcoming film on her life is set during the period of the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and is being directed by the filmmaker Guy Nattiv. The film’s shooting began in November last year and pictures from the set showed Mirren wearing heavy makeup to match Meir’s look.
The pictures were received with positive responses from the fans online and many said that they could not even recognise Mirren behind the makeup.
However, this is not the first time that Mirren has been tasked with playing a Jewish character on screen. She had previously played a Mossad agent in the 2010 film The Debt, and a Jewish refugee Maria Altmann in director Simon Curtis’ 2015 film Woman in Gold.
The debate over non-Jewish actors playing Jewish characters came into the center stage after English actress Tamsin Greig said that she “probably should not” have played a Jewish mother in Friday Night Dinner because she is not a Jew herself.
In The JC piece, some theatre personalities said that Jewish characters should only be played by Jew actors. Their argument was that Jews are being treated less sympathetically than other groups in films and popular culture. However, the other side argued that limiting the actors’ choice on their descent would deny them the right to become someone else from a different background.