Maureen Lipman Criticises Decision To Cast Helen Mirren In Biopic Of Israeli Leader Golda Meir

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  • Helen Mirren
    Helen Mirren
    British actress
  • Golda Meir
    Golda Meir
    Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974
Maureen Lipman (Photo: Chris Jackson via Getty Images)
Maureen Lipman (Photo: Chris Jackson via Getty Images)

Maureen Lipman has said she “disagrees” with the decision to have Helen Mirren play Israeli leader Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic.

In a piece published in The Jewish Chronicle earlier this week, Maureen is quoted criticising the casting choice, and claiming the role should have gone to a Jewish performer.

“The Jewishness of the character is so integral,” she said. “I’m sure [Helen] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”

The Coronation Street star added: “Perhaps you need to have some sort of panel of people who say this is not acceptable, this is acceptable.”

Helen Mirren (Photo: Stefania D'Alessandro via Getty Images)
Helen Mirren (Photo: Stefania D'Alessandro via Getty Images)

Maureen was later asked about her comments during Thursday’s Good Morning Britain, telling the show: “If the religion fires the character, then I honestly think you should look at that group, that gender.

“If the character is gay, I think you should definitely see the gay actors first. See the Jewish actors first and if it doesn’t work out, fire ahead, go ahead.”

She continued: “My feeling is, firstly, that Helen Mirren is a fine actress, and will be brilliant in the role and will green-light the film and be very good because she’s sexy and Golda Meir, believe it or not, was very sexy.

“I’ve seen shows about her before so I have nothing against Helen playing it.

“My query is, should the casting directors have looked first, and maybe they did, at Bette Midler or [Barbra] Streisand or Jennifer Connelly or Scarlett Johansson?

“Probably I would have gone for Tracey Ullman, who is a brilliant actress. But maybe they wouldn’t green-light a film and maybe they considered that Helen has Russian in her background and therefore she could play this Jewish woman from Milwaukee.”

Maureen added: “Now it’s a complicated argument and I will end up contradicting myself but say, for example, that you wanted to cast a film about Indira Gandhi, would it be all right, would there be a fuss, if you cast Salma Hayek, a Mexican, probably Catholic? Is it all right?

“Once I played an Irish Catholic and Milton Schumann wrote in his review, ‘Maureen Lipman playing an Irish Catholic is like Barbra Streisand playing Mother Teresa’. Now, you might say, ‘why not?’”

Helen Mirren was first announced to have been cast in the leading role in the film Golda last year, with shooting getting underway in November.

Soon after filming began, the first photo of the Oscar-winning actor in character was released.

The Jewish Chronicle’s piece quotes a number of other performers on the subject of non-Jewish actors being cast in Jewish roles, including comedian Sarah Silverman, who said: “Right now, representation f***ing matters. It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women.”

The article also references Friday Night Dinner star Tamsin Greig’s recent comments that she “probably shouldn’t” have accepted her role in the Channel 4 comedy.

I think, given our sensitivity today about these issues, I probably shouldn’t have been in that show,” Tamsin – a practising Christian, who has Jewish heritage – said last month. “We are much more conscious today than we were when that show was first aired.”

Tamsin later clarified: “If we were casting it now, we’d have had very, very different conversations about the necessity for casting me in it and whether the casting should have been wider.

“Ten years ago, who knew those conversations were coming? We do things thinking, ‘Oh, that looks like a really interesting role’ – and actually it’s about a woman trying to survive in a wild family that seems to be falling apart. Which I think at that time, that was a very resonant part of people’s lives.”

Maureen Lipman previously made headlines towards the end of last year, when she told the BBC that she was concerned that supposed “cancel culture” would “wipe out” quality comedy.

This article has been updated to include Maureen Lipman’s quotes from Thursday’s Good Morning Britain.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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