Film Review: Woman in Gold

A lot of reviews gave the impression that this film had a very 'paint by numbers' vibe, one even had that as the title.
What they meant by this, was that this was a simplified version of the true story and that you knew exactly which way it would all end up going.
Another reviewer said the direction and the score was very heavy handed. Clearly the reviewer was watching another film entirely.

I have just returned from seeing Woman in Gold and it gives me great pleasure to be able to full refute such claims and say what an absolute stunner the film is.

The 'based on a true story' route automatically gives the people working on such a film, all of them, from director to floor runner, huge responsibility to not only tell the story well and make a good film, but to really bring the people and period to life that gives the audience a look at what the history was truly like.

After all, those that do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

Anyway, Simon Curtis, does not 'heavy hand' direct anything. His direction, as is most of the behind the scenes work of this film, is beautifully subtle.

They clearly saw that this was a rich story with so much depth and left the story to develop, under careful watch by the screenwriter - Alexi Kaye Campbell, who unbelievably, this is his first writing credit.
He has done sterling work here, it is an emotional story and he doesn't milk them, which is a relief. You are already almost overwhelmed by the mere facts of the histories that are on show here, so the only dialogue used, is what is necessary to make it the story coherent and entertaining, as strange as that word being used here may seem, its true.
The humour in the script is not just an add in, it is realistic for such events. The nazis in one period took so much from people and the Austrian government/gallery heads, tried to take more, but if they could not take their sense of humour, that is a victory in itself. And a film that tells such a story, is able to make you laugh out loud, that is something special.

Since this is a story very much influenced by the past, it is always important for the scenes from pre-war/war time Vienna to weave in and out gently, which is done here perfectly. The last time I saw such a great technique was in the two part mini-series The Labrinyth.
That said, the 'present' time in the film is in 1998 and like the other period, the realism of the sets, the props, costumes etc, are all top notch in their authenticity.

The score for this film, was done beautifully by Martin Phipps (he composed for a few episodes of the Peaky Blinders) and Hans Zimmer, who needs no introductions. Something that helps, is that the score comes in when there is no or little dialogue, like the direction, screenplay, they are all very subtle, letting the story tell itself. It reminded me a lot of the score for the Edge of Love, by Angelo Badalamenti, again very subtle, letting the story tell itself.

Now, the acting. Helen Mirren has proven herself time and again, and here once again for this film portrays Maria Altmann perfectly, with a quiet dignity and decorum. And a realistic accent to match. Her character is fighting an uphill battle that should not really be a battle to begin with, and in every encounter with the government/gallery officials, she keeps her confidence and outward cool, but her emotions are still there, under the surface.

She is equally matched by Ryan Reynolds, as "Randy", Randol Schoenburg, a young lawyer, who is a little hesitant at first by the request but soon comes into his own and realises that there is so much more to this case than a painting that needs returning to its rightful owner. The two characters have a shared history but it is not just that that unites them and keeps them fighting, its the characters' determination to see justice done. The reviews I've seen claim that Mr Reynolds was miscast, which I consider to be very much untrue.

Another key character in the 'present' is the journalist, Hubertus Czernin, who helps them a little behind the scenes in Vienna. He is portrayed by Daniel Bruhl, who gives his character life, and makes you remember him past the credits, which considering the stellar cast he works with, is something impressive on its own.

Back in Vienna, the younger Maria Altmann, is perfectly portrayed by one of the new greats of the industry, Tatiana Maslany. She has some very key scenes in a film full of them, and gives all them such gravitas. There are some very special actors that can convey so much with the barest of dialogue in a scene and she is one of them.
Her family, her aunt, Adele Bloch Bauer (the lady herself in the famous painting) is portrayed beautifully by Antje Traue.
Her father Gustav, is portrayed by Allan Corduner, a favourite actor of mine. His performances before in The White Countess and Da Vinci's Demons as the trusted father figure and friend are echoed slightly in this one, he just has such reassuring a presence in his work that says so much and makes the scene shine.

The rest of the supporting cast, Max Irons, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance, Henry Goodman, Frances Fisher, Tom Schilling and Nina Kunzendorf (and everyone else listed on IMDb) are all just as excellent and help make this film the masterpiece it truly is.

Just as much as the painting that gives the film its name.


  1. This quote comes from a film, not based on true story, but based on one that echoes the period of a people ruled by fear. Yet still has some humour.

    President Alma Coin: “Any other demands?
    Katniss: My sister gets to keep her cat.”


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