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 (played by Helen Mirren in the film). As a Jewish woman, she had to flee to the USA after the Nazis had occupied Austria and her hometown Vienna in 1938.
Roughly 50 years later, in 1990s, Altmann lives a simple life as a widowed shopkeeper in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles.
When her sister dies, she discovers several letters about the beautiful artwork her wealthy Jewish family once owned. Among this artwork a golden painting that the Nazis had stolen from Maria's formerly wealthy Jewish family.
It shows Altmann’s aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, better known as “The Woman in Gold”…
Altmann then decides that she wants to get back what is rightfully hers. Moreover, she wants to remind the people of today of the horrendous injustices 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)
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) proves to be a particularly tough cookie. Plus, revisiting her former hometown Vienna doesn’t only bring back happy memories for Altmann…
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.
Both have strinkingly English accents when they speak in German. And they do have a lot of German lines. As a German speaker, this was something that bothered me a little bit. However, their acting performances were really good.
The Vienna Film Locations
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)
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)
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…)
Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial - Judenplatz (Maria and Randy stop in front of the memorial to remember the past)
Hotel Sacher – Philharmoniker Str. 4
Vienna State Opera – Opernring 2
Vienna Concert House – Lothringerstraße 20, Rooseveltplatz, Semperdepot – Lehargasse 6
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 art nouveau period, near the City Hall)
"Palais Auersperg" – Auerspergstraße No. 8 (interior of the Bloch Bauers' apartment)
Vienna's City Hall – Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 1
Read more about how you can trace the film locations of Woman in Gold and four other Vienna-set movies in my travel post Vienna Film Locations Walk
The London Film 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-Bauers and London's "Goldsmiths Hall" (Foster Lane & Gresham Street) served as the backdrop for the final arbitration hearing in Vienna.
In real life as well as in the film, Altmann took her legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. After almost a decade, both the Supreme Court (2004) and an Austrian arbitration court (2006) finally ruled the case Republic of Austria v. Altmann in favour of Maria Altmann.
Ever since then, Klimt's original painting is on permanent exhibition at the Neue Galerie art gallery for German and Austrian art in New York City, USA.
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
Inspired to go to Vienna yourself?
Check out my other Vienna travel posts!
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com. Title Photo by © The Weinstein Company