Film review: Woman in Gold

Melissa York
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Max Irons and Tatiana Maslany in Woman in Gold

Cert 15 | ★★☆☆☆

Ryan Reynolds, playing lawyer Randy Schoenberg, sums up the plot succinctly when he tells an Austrian court “this is a simple matter of one woman getting back what’s rightfully hers.” Of course, when it comes to the Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt, the reality is more complicated than that. Not that you’d know it from watching this formulaic attempt to dramatise the difficult business of art restitution.
Following the Anschluss in 1938, the Nazis seized thousands of valuable artworks from Jewish families, including Klimt’s portrait of Viennese socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer. Her niece, Maria Altmann, played by a heavily-accented Helen Mirren, escapes to the US and finds herself embroiled decades later in a lengthy court battle with family friend Schoenberg to reclaim the artwork, which has become “the Mona Lisa of Austria” in the intervening years.

Helen Mirren on a mission to get back the prized painting

If you think it sounds predictable, you’re right, which is fine if the film also packs an emotional punch. However, any whiff of tension is snuffed out by an oversimplified narrative that’s determined to reduce the story to Good vs Evil.
There’s barely any discussion about the painting’s wider cultural worth or, indeed, Bloch-Bauer’s wish that it remain on public display in Austria. Instead, the Austrian government are painted as fusty Nazi apologists, and Daniel Bruhl’s brief appearance as a sympathetic reporter feels like empty tokenism.
The cultural debris left by the Nazi regime is a timely, fascinating topic but, like The Monuments Men before it, Woman in Gold is entertaining, but lacks the nuance the subject deserves. The result is a well-acted film that’s lacking in suspense and, ultimately, the catharsis the audience is waiting for.

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