Mirren's Golda Meir biopic to premiere at Berlin fest

A long-awaited biopic starring British actor Helen Mirren as Israel's only female prime minister, Golda Meir, will have its world premiere at the Berlin film festival next month, organisers said Friday.

The casting of Mirren, who is not Jewish, to play one of Israeli history's most iconic figures in "Golda" sparked keen interest but also controversy when it was announced.

Fellow British actor Maureen Lipman told the Jewish Chronicle last year that she doubted the choice because she considered Meir's religion to be "integral" to her character.

"I'm sure she will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn't even go there," Lipman was quoted as saying, referring to the actor of Indian and English descent who famously played Gandhi.

Mirren, whose performance as Elizabeth II in "The Queen" garnered an Academy Award in 2008, has called the questions about her identity "utterly legitimate" and said she also wondered whether it was appropriate for her to play Meir.

She told the Daily Mail last year that she had said to the film's Israeli director Guy Nattiv that he should carefully consider whether she was the right person for the part.

"But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went," Mirren said.

One of the signatories of the declaration of Israeli independence, Meir served as premier from 1969 until 1974.

A strong and unyielding personality, she famously said "there is no Palestinian people".

Her time in power was marked by a 1973 war sparked by a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that Israel was only able to defeat after setbacks that caused severe losses.

The festival said "Golda", set during that conflict, would screen in its Berlinale Special sidebar section, out of competition.

The 11-day event, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year, kicks off on February 16.

US actor Kristen Stewart will lead the festival jury while Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is due to pick up an Honorary Golden Bear prize for lifetime achievement.

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