'Woman in Gold' brings Klimt legal battle to the big screen

Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds' 'Woman in Gold' dramatizes the real-life legal battle over a Klimt painting

Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren may get top billing for the new drama "Woman in Gold," but she's not the one the title refers to — that would be Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the subject of a 1907 Gustav Klimt masterpiece that sparked a two-continent legal battle nearly a century after it was painted.

Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week With Marilyn"), "Woman" dramatizes the efforts of Bloch-Bauer's niece, Maria Altmann (Mirren), and Los Angeles lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to recover the Klimt painting and four others stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The film opens Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Altmann's seemingly unwinnable court battle over the eye-catching, gold-leafed painting — officially "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," renamed "Woman in Gold" by the Nazis — lasted from 1999 and 2006, bouncing between Austria and the U.S., where it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In light of the extensive press coverage at the time, it is perhaps no spoiler that Altmann eventually triumphed, and Times readers might well recall that the five Klimts were exhibited at LACMA in 2006.

Altmann, who died in 2011 at 94, eventually sold the paintings at auction for a combined $327.7 million.

Recognizing the central importance of the Bloch-Bauer portrait to "Woman in Gold," the filmmakers set out to painstakingly re-create it, enlisting the sure hand of scenic artist Steve Mitchell, a veteran of hundreds of films including "Children of Men," "Match Point" and the "Harry Potter" franchise.

Mitchell told The Times the assignment was "probably one of the most complicated paintings for its size that you could ever be asked to do."

"Woman in Gold" will likely face its own share of challenges as it opens in limited release this week from the Weinstein Co. The "Furious 7" juggernaut is fast approaching (though the two movies probably appeal to slightly different audiences).

However Curtis' film ultimately fares, it will at least give one "Woman" a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

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