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Woman in Gold | Film review - True-story drama fails to glitter - despite the sheen of Helen Mirren's charisma

Woman in Gold - Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds
(Image credit: Robert Viglasky)
(Image credit: Robert Viglasky)

The fascinating true story of an elderly woman’s quest to retrieve artworks looted from her wealthy Jewish family by the Nazis gets turned by the glossy Woman in Gold (opens in new tab) into an uneven mix of historical thriller, courtroom drama and odd-couple comedy.

Helen Mirren turns on the cranky charm as the Viennese-born Maria Altmann, but Ryan Reynolds is disappointingly bland as her American lawyer and the script isn’t sharp enough to give their rapport the heart and humour that made Judi Dench and Steve Coogan’s pairing in Philomena so engaging.

Woman in Gold (2015) - Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren, Daniel Bruhl

(Image credit: Robert Viglasky)

Mirren and Reynolds’ mismatched-duo double act makes up half the film, as earnest young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (the grandson of composer of Arnold Schoenberg, as it happens) takes up Los Angeles resident Maria’s cause in the late 1990s, travelling with her to Vienna but meeting intransigence from the Austrian authorities at every turn when they try to reclaim her family’s lost art, including the painting of the title, Gustav Klimt’s dazzling 1907 portrait (opens in new tab) of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

The visit stirs Maria’s memories of her life in the city before she fled Austria as a young woman (played by Tatiana Maslany), and these flashback scenes – leading up to her hair’s breadth escape from the Nazis as a rising tide of anti-Semitism engulfs the country – prove far more gripping and engrossing than the film’s lacklustre latter-day episodes.

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Certificate 12. Runtime 109 mins. Director Simon Curtis.

Woman in Gold is released on Blu-ray & DVD by Entertainment in Video. http://youtube.com/v/wu9JeTX6Sdw

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.