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Metro Canada: Mirren is good as gold for director Simon Curtis

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 5.00.19 PMWoman in Gold is director Simon Curtis’s follow up to the Academy Award nominated film My Week with Marilyn. His first feature chronicled seven days in the life of Marilyn Monroe during the production of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl.

In the new movie Dame Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann, an Austrian Holocaust survivor who enlists the help of young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to help reclaim five Gustav Klimt paintings, including one of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Looted by Nazis at the outset of WWII the iconic artwork—it’s referred to as the “Mona Lisa of Austria” in the film—had hung in the state gallery for five decades. The years-long case wound its way slowly through the courts until it reached the Supreme Court of the United States and then binding arbitration by a panel of three Austrian judges.

He spent a week with Marilyn, the director teases, but years with Maria.

Altmann’s story first grabbed his interest when he saw a BBC Imagine documentary on her struggle to reclaim the artworks that were rightfully hers. He was taken with the character of Maria, who reminded him of many people he grew up with. “I’m from a Jewish family in London,” he says, “and I met many women like Maria.”

The resulting film plays like two thrillers, the present day legal story and the backstory, told in flashbacks.

One is a procedural, one a horrifying look at the rise of Nazism in Austria, mixed and matched to form a whole but “Woman in Gold” isn’t strictly a movie about a lawsuit or Holocaust horror, it’s really a story about the power of memories and heritage.

Curtis says the casting of Mirren was crucial to the success of the film. He needed an actress of a certain age and one who could portray the emotional range of a woman trapped between her real world pain and the memories she holds dear. On Mirren’s face is the story, a vision of loss and anguish, but tempered with a tale of determination.

Curtis first met Mirren almost thirty years ago when he assistant directed a production of Measure for Measure in 1979. He remembers her as a formidable force and jokingly calls himself “her tea boy.”

“I sat with her in the kitchen and helped her answer fan mail and boiled water for tea,” he says. “I did essentially the same job on this film.”

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