Woman in Gold is a 2015 British-American drama film directed by Simon Curtis and written by Alexi Kaye Campbell. The film stars Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce.
The film is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee living in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles, who, together with her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was stolen from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. Altmann took her legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled on the case Republic of Austria v. Altmann (2004).
The film was screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
In a series of flashbacks throughout the film, Maria Altmann recalls the arrival of Nazi forces in Vienna, and the subsequent suppression of the Jewish community and the looting and pillaging conducted by the Nazis against Jewish families. Seeking to escape before the country is completely shut off, Maria Altmann and members of her family attempt to flee to the United States. While Altmann and her husband are successful in their escape, she is forced to abandon her parents in Vienna.
In the present, living in Los Angeles, a now elderly and widowed Altmann attends the funeral for her sister. She discovers letters in her sister's possession dating to the late 1940s, which reveal an attempt to recover artwork owned by the Altmann family that was left behind during the family's flight for freedom and subsequently stolen by the Nazis. Of particular note is a painting of Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, now known in Austria as the "Woman in Gold".
Altmann enlists the help of E. Randol Schoenberg (the son of her close friend, Barbara), a lawyer with little experience, to make a claim to the art restitution board in Austria. Reluctantly returning to her homeland, Altmann discovers that the country's minister and art director are unwilling to part with the painting, which they feel has become part of the national identity. Altmann is told that the painting was in fact legitimately willed to the gallery by her aunt. Upon further investigation by her lawyer and Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, this claim proves to be incorrect, as the alleged will is invalid due to the fact that her aunt did not own the painting in question, the artist's fee having been paid by her uncle; moreover, she wanted the painting to go to the museum at her husband's death while in fact it was taken from him by the Nazis and placed in the museum by a Nazi-collaborating curator. Schoenberg files a challenge with the art restitution board, but it is denied and Altmann does not have the money needed to challenge the ruling. Defeated, she and Schoenberg return to the United States.
Months thereafter, happening upon an art book with "Woman in Gold" on the cover, Schoenberg has an epiphany. Using a narrow rule of law and precedents in which an art restitution law was retroactively applied, Schoenberg files a claim in US court against the Austrian government contesting their claim to the painting. An appeal goes to the Supreme Court of the United States, where in the matter of Republic of Austria v. Altmann, the court rules in Altmann's favor, which results in the Austrian government attempting to persuade Altmann to retain the painting for the gallery, which she refuses. After a falling out over the issue of returning to Austria for a second time to argue the case, Altmann agrees for Schoenberg to go and argue the case in front of an arbitration panel of three arbiters in Vienna.
In Austria, the arbitration panel hears the case, during which time they are reminded of the Nazi Regime's war crimes by Schoenberg. Schoenberg implores the arbitration panel to think of the meaning of the word restitution and to look past the artwork hanging in art galleries to see the injustice to the families who once owned such great paintings and were forcibly separated from them by the Nazis. Unexpectedly, Altmann arrives during the session indicating to Czernin that she came to support her lawyer. After considering both sides of the dispute, the arbitration panel rules in favour of Altmann, returning her paintings. The Austrian government representative makes a last minute proposal begging Altmann to keep the paintings in the Belvedere against a generous compensation. Altmann refuses and elects to have the painting moved to the United States with her ("They will now travel to America like I once had to as well"), and takes up an offer made earlier by Ronald Lauder to acquire them for his New York gallery to display the painting on condition that it be a permanent exhibit.
On 15 May 2014 Tatiana Maslany was cast in a principal role as the younger version of Helen Mirren's character, appearing in the Second World War flashbacks. On 29 May Katie Holmes joined the cast of the film. On 30 May Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Moritz Bleibtreu and Antje Traue joined the cast of the film. On 9 July Frances Fisher joined the film to play Reynolds' character's mother.
The reproduction of the key painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was painted by scenic artist Steve Mitchell, who spent five weeks making the re-creation. He also made a partly finished version as well as a partial version for a close-up.
Principal photography began on 23 May 2014 and lasted for eight weeks in the United Kingdom, Austria, and the United States. On 9 June Katie Holmes was spotted filming some scenes in London. On 16 June the filming was underway in London. On 1 July Reynolds and Mirren were spotted filming in Vienna, Austria. On 9 July the filming was reportedly underway in Los Angeles.
The Vienna airport scenes were filmed in the UK at Shoreham Airport in West Sussex.
Woman in Gold received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film had a rating of 53%, based on 120 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Woman in Gold benefits from its talented leads, but strong work from Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds isn't enough to overpower a disappointingly dull treatment of a fascinating true story." On Metacritic the film has a score of 51 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". In IMDb, as of 28 August 2016, the average user score is 7.3 with 34,204 ratings.
As of 7 June 2015, Woman in Gold grossed $31.9 million in North America and $10.5 million in other territories for a total gross of $42.5 million, against a budget of $11 million.
In the film's limited release weekend, 3–5 April, it grossed $2.1 million from 258 cinemas. In its wide release weekend, expanding to 1,504 cinemas on 10 April it grossed $5.5 million, finishing 7th at the box office.
Film critics in Austria and Germany noted various deviations of the film from historical reality. Olga Kronsteiner from the Austrian daily Der Standard wrote that, contrary to the film, it was not Maria Altmann's lawyer, Randol Schönberg, who researched and initiated the restitution case, but Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, who had worked on a number of restitution files at the time, who found the decisive documents and subsequently informed Maria Altmann.
Hubertus Czernin, who is depicted in the movie, is suggested to have been motivated by the fact that his father had been a member of the Nazi Party; but Stefan Grissemann from Austrian weekly Profil pointed out that his father's party membership was not known to Czernin until 2006, long after he had started to work on this and other restitution cases; and that in addition Czernin's father was imprisoned by the Nazis late in the war for high treason.
Thomas Trenkler from the Viennese daily Kurier criticized the film's reference to a time limit for restitution claims in Austria, writing that there has never been such a time limit. He also wrote that his least favorite scene in the film was when Maria Altmann leaves her ailing father in Vienna in 1938. Despite the imminent danger, Maria Altmann stayed in Vienna, having said, "I would never have left my father! He died of natural causes in July 1938". Only then did she and her husband escape from Vienna.
After the Austrian government finally returned Ms. Altmann's family's heirlooms to her, she consigned some of the Klimts to the auction house Christie's, to be sold on her behalf, fetching a total of over $327 million. The Woman in Gold itself was sold to Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York for $135 million based on an earlier agreement between Altmann and Ronald Lauder, a part of which is shown in the film.