I felt as if I’d seen Woman In Gold, at least five times before I’d even had a chance to watch the film itself. Its trailer, which had been aggressively forced upon for a month at least, left little room for surprise; or so I thought. Essentially, it seemed to me that Woman In Gold was an attempt to capitalise on the success of 2013’s Philomena. Names and details may have changed, but the two share the same skeleton; a story about a take no prisoners pensioner, and her relationship with a young, down on his luck professional, who must go on a joint quest to get moral justice.
The film is based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who fled Austria during the Nazi’s occupation. She approaches young lawyer and family friend, Randol Schoenberg, when she finds documents belonging to her late sister, concerning the Klimt painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. Stolen – along with other expensive valuables – by the Nazi party, and hung in the Beldevere Gallery in Vienna; the pair take the Austrian government to court, in a bid to prove that the painting should be returned to its rightful owner, Maria herself.
Woman In Gold is the type of film that does exactly what it says on the tin. Aimed primarily at an older, and greyer demographic, it plays exactly the way you think it will. Safe and inoffensive, the film’s simplicity, and formuliac nature means that it doesn’t do enough to make it particularly memorable. We’ve all seen this story before, in some form or another; but whilst it may not offer bags full of originality, that isn’t to say it has nothing to offer at all. The cast are charming enough, particularly the great Helen Mirren who, dodgy accent aside, is as watchable as ever.
What really saves the film from tedious familiarity though, are flashbacks to Maria’s time during the occupation, which include an incredibly tense chase sequence, that sees Altmann and her husband trying to escape Vienna. The only problem is that the stuff set in the past, actually proves more interesting than the modern day action, which makes up most of the film. Told strictly from one point of view, stronger themes of War Guilt are cautiously touched upon, but never explored in enough detail to give the film any kind of relevance, or intrigue. Add to the picture some concerning representations of some ‘evil’ Austrians, who are a Sieg Heil away from being practically portrayed as Nazi sympathists; and a lack of substance, as well as balance, really lets the film down.
That said, I had low expectations going into Woman In Gold, but actually came out presently surprised. It’s extremely problematic and totally throwaway, but it has a couple of nice moments dotted throughout, that at least make it a little worthwhile. It’s got a couple of nice jokes – one about Hitler being accepted into art school is a particular highlight – and one very thrilling sequence about half way through. I saw it with an audience made up primarily of people over the age of sixty, and they all seemed to enjoy it, which in a way, makes Woman In Gold successful in its main objective. I personally would have liked to have seen the film explore more of the wider themes in a bit more detail, and you can’t help but get the sense that certain creative liberties were taken throughout, but as a whole, it’s perfectly passable, middle of the road entertainment, that isn’t trying to be anything other than just that.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com