Woman in Gold is one of those dramas that just has it all. It highlights the incredible injustices that the European Jews suffered under the Nazis, shows you the most beautiful filming locations in Vienna, teaches you a thing or two about Viennese art and even adds in some subtle humour…
Woman in Gold is based on the true life story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). As a Jewish woman, she had to flee to the USA when the Nazis occupied her hometown Vienna, the capital of Austria, in 1938.
Roughly 50 years later, while living a simple life as a widowed shopkeeper in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles, Altmann discovers several letters about the beautiful artwork her wealthy Jewish family once owned. Among the artwork, stolen by the Nazis, is a particular precious portrait painting.
This painting shows Altmann's aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer and is commonly known as “The Woman in Gold”.
Now exhibited in the Belvedere art gallery in Vienna, this golden masterpiece was painted by the famous Viennese artist Gustav Klimt.
Altmann then decides that she wants to get back what is rightfully the property of her family. Moreover, she wants to remind the people who live today of the horrendous injustice that the European Jews suffered under the Nazis.
"People forget, you see. Especially the young. I have to do what I can to keep these memories alive".
Quote by Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) in the film Woman in Gold.
For her cause, she commissions the young lawyer and family friend Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). When in Vienna, the duo also gets help from the Austrian lawyer and journalist Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl).
But the government of Austria, mainly represented by a man called Toman (Justus von Dohnányi) of the Belvedere Gallery, proves to be a particularly tough cookie. Plus, revisiting her former hometown Vienna doesn’t only bring back happy memories for Altmann…
The film is partly set in Los Angeles and partly in Vienna, where Altmann travels to with lawyer Randy Schoenberg for the first time after her traumatic escape.
Through flashbacks, she remembers the privileged life her family once led here in the 1920s and 1930s and how this life was brutally torn apart when the Nazis came to town.
The Vienna Filming Locations include:
Schloss Belvedere – Rennweg 6 (Maria, Randy and Hubertus take a walk through the beautiful baroque gardens between the two Belvedere art galleries)
The Giant Ferris Wheel – Riesenplatz 1 at the Viennese fun park "Prater" (Maria and Randy sit and talk on a bench in front of the Wheel)
Academy of Fine Arts - Schillerplatz 3 (Maria remarks that she wishes the academy would have admitted the young artist Adolf Hitler instead of rejecting him. It could have changed world history…)
Hotel Sacher – Philharmoniker Str. 4
Vienna State Opera – Opernring 2
Vienna's City Hall – Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 1
Felderstraße (possibility the outer façade of the Bloch Bauer apartment, although I didn't find the exact house. Still a nice area for a stroll with many beautiful buildings from the "Jugendstil" era, near the City Hall)
Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial - Judenplatz (Maria and Randy stop in front of the memorial to remember the past)
St. Ulrichsplatz (the stone staircase where Maria walks past both as a young woman living in Vienna and on her return visit many years later)
"Palais Auersperg" – Auerspergstraße No. 8 (interior of the Bloch Bauers' apartment)
Vienna Concert House – Lothringerstraße 20, Rooseveltplatz, Semperdepot – Lehargasse 6
London Filming Locations:
Some scenes were also shot in UK: The Blythe House (23 Blythe Road, West Kensington) in London stood in for some of the interior scenes at the wealthy home of the Bloch-Bauer family and London's "Goldsmiths Hall" (Foster Lane & Gresham Street) served as the backdrop for the final arbitration hearing in Vienna.
As a German native speaker, I immediately hear that these two are not whenever they speak their German lines in the film. However, their performance was good, especially during their highly suspenseful last-minute attempt to escape Vienna.
Also worthwhile mentioning is German actor Tom Schilling as a Nazi soldier called Heinrich, who tries to prevent Maria's and Fritz' escape at any cost.
Even though the story is of course a very serious one and there are several scenes which brought tears to my eyes, there was also some subtle humour. Especially during the present-day scenes between Maria and young lawyer Randy.
Furthermore, the film also carries an important political message against discrimination of people from different backgrounds or religions. Especially important, I believe, as we see extreme right-wing populists and nationals gain alarmingly increasing support again in 2017.
The Final Verdict:
Woman in Gold is an amazing real-life success story that has been beautifully brought to the screen and really inspired me to explore Vienna for myself.
**** 4 out of 5 stars
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com. Title Photo by © The Weinstein Company