Of all of the painters of the late 19th century who brought Art Nouveau to startling life, Gustav Klimt was most prominent.

His most fabulous painting, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” in 1907, seems to have the largest following. Despite a reputation among his fellows as a “decorative showman, it hangs as a magnet on refrigerator walls, in millions of homes in cheap copy posters, and seems, like a turning mirror, to mesmerize all who gaze upon it.

Klimt painted many women, but only Adele sat for him twice. Rumors of an affair hung in Vienna’s air like the scent of rich strudel, perhaps because of the painting’s noted eroticism.

Adele was the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer,a wealthy Viennese banker, and the diamond encrusted necklace he gave her stands out boldly around her lovely neck, surpassing even the layers of gold leaf surrounding her.

The Bloch-Bauer family had a great collection of art. They had a 16th century Hans Holbein, for pity’s sake, but clearly, the portrait of Adele was the jewel in the family’s crown. Sadly, all of this, along with, and this takes one’s breath away, Ferdinand’s Stradivarius cello, were swallowed up by the Nazis.

In Simon Curtis’ (“My Week With Marilyn”) moving film about the painting’s story, “Woman in Gold,” (a title it was given by the Nazi’s to “erase” the “Jewish stigma” of the model,) Helen Mirren once again brings rich tones to a role. Here, is she Maria Altman, Adele’s niece, a survivor of the rape of Vienna by the Nazis.

Maria has grown old, but still imbued with aristocratic fire, in Los Angeles, widowed and remorseful, running a successful dress shop. We see that Maria seems to have long given up the pursuit of this splendiferous artifact of hers and Vienna’s glorious past. But still it hangs there in the gallery of her heart, in the museum of her distant past.

As the story begins, the famous painting hangs in the well-known Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, bequeathed there by Adele before her death, and there it remained for more than six decades.

This then is the story of the fire in Maria’s heart to pursue a final battle to regain the painting, now valued at more than a hundred million dollars. Of course the Viennese consider it the “Mona Lisa” of Vienna, and will surely put up a fight, and fight they do.

Maria engages the services of a young beginner lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) with deep connections to Austria. His grandfather was no less than the great Viennese composer and artist Arnold Schoenberg.

Randy is trying to get his start with a prestigious Los Angeles firm and has no interest in this quest. But obviously the tugging of his ancestral genes compel him to see it through.

It will be a long and torturous legal journey both in California and back in Vienna.

Maria wants him to go alone to Austria to try the case. She is haunted by what happened to her family and resists returning. But Randy persuades her, and together they suit up and plunge into battle.

Mirren, ever the artist, both of stage (Queen Elizabeth in “The Audience”) and in what seems multi films all at once, takes her queenly airs, and laying on a Viennese accent, dominates the film. With razor flips of her eyebrow and firmly pinched lips, she is ever the queen.

Ryan Reynolds, after a string of contemporary light hearted and often silly comedies (“Million Ways to Die in the West”) seems at first glance to be particularly unsuited for the role. But somehow he survives and even excels in one or two scenes, despite the presence of such a powerful figure as Mirren.

Curtiss, with the help of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s script, fills in the gaps between the modern Los Angeles’ legal battles and the final tense scenes in Vienna, with flashbacks to the Sturm und Drang of Hitler’s Anschluss in 1938.

In those moments, Curtis’ shots and castings are particularly well done, especially the addition of Daniel Bruhl as the young Austrian reporter who gives a helping hand.

Tatiana Masiany, as the young Maria, was another nice choice. You may remember her from David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises.” Tatiana gives a performance of great tenderness and sensitivity, reminding me a bit of the work of Marion Cotillard.

It’s true, as some critics have carped, that we’ve been here before, but in these times when the serpent of anti-semitism is poking its head out of the grass, an occasional visit to this era, particularly one like this, is time very well spent.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.