Since her debut in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures way back in 1994, Kate Winslet has steadily become one of the UK’s national treasures. Known for her seemingly effortless portrayals of women dealing with trauma and loss, Winslet manages to deliver a memorable performance, even when narrative, script and direction falls down around her. (She’s also got a wicked sense of humour that’s rarely seen on screen, unless it’s the outtakes.) So as Filmotomy’s Actober comes to an end, I’d like to take a look at Kate Winslet’s roles over the years. And I promise I won’t mention how much room there was on that HUGE DOOR, ROSE.
Go Hard or Go Home
I’ll get it over with short and sweet: James Cameron’s Titanic is the definition of epic. And a then 22-year-old Kate Winslet was also epic – taking the role of Rose Bukater in her stride, displaying the emotional range of an actress twice her age with significantly more experience. Throughout Titanic her body language shines as she creates depth, confusion and love effortlessly through a mere movement or facial expression.
Plus, her on-screen chemistry with Leonardo DiCaprio is so authentic and believable, most of us (maybe just me?) wanted them to be a ‘real-life’ couple. Interestingly, the pair seemed destined to star alongside each other, as both were at a similar stage in their careers. And now it makes everyone (maybe just me?) delighted to know that they’ve starred alongside each other since and are actually very good friends:
“I walked away with one of the greatest friendships of my life in my back pocket, which is Leo. We know each other in a very unique way, I think, because of the experience we both had on that film and having to take care of one another.”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
On paper, would Kate Winslet starring alongside Jim Carey in a drama/sci-fi work? Not really. But somehow, Michael Gondry’s look at the pain of breakups and the fear of being vulnerable is fantastic. Carey shocks with a muted, no gimmicks performance as Joel. But it’s Winslet that steals the show as Clementine.
Clementine has the regular traits most of Winslet’s characters have: pained, haunted, melancholy – but Clementine also has a sense of humour (albeit self-deprecating). She wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s bossy. She’s messy. It’s a far cry from some of Winslet’s previous roles, but it suits her.
Winslet even admitted in a recent interview that Clementine was one of her favourite characters. Once again, she bounces (and rubs up the wrong way) her co-star. And by doing this, the chemistry feels real. In a film about individuals dealing with so much pain from a previous relationship they literally pay someone to remove their memories, it works brilliantly. Joel and Clementine are a pretty accurate portrayal of two people terrified of commitment, but madly in love with each other.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Just over ten years since they travelled on the ill-fated Titanic together, Winslet and DiCaprio starred alongside each other again on Sam Mendes’s (Winslet’s then-husband) Revolutionary Road. Winslet – seemingly the master of on-screen chemistry (or lack of) – plays April, wife of Frank in a disconcerting but painfully real look at the break down of a marriage and the American dream they’re desperately trying to cling on to.
World’s apart from the star-crossed lovers they were in Titanic, April and Frank strive for a suburban life and are left feeling empty when they both quickly realise, it’s not what either of them wants. Winslet offers an emotionally-raw performance, and somehow manages to make the audience empathise and relate all at once –Revolutionary Road teeters on the edge of the “What are we doing with our lives?” debate most (if not all couples) have at one point in their relationship.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Arguably, all of Winslet’s ‘relationship’ roles had been setting her up for the ultimate: Joanna Hoffman, Apple marketing executive and Steve Jobs’s right-hand woman. Winslet’s on-screen chemistry is unlike any of her previous roles – acting more like a stern school teacher rather than work colleague to Jobs. And for some reason, Jobs listened.
He listened to Joanna when she forced him to confront his issues with the mother of his child. He listened when she berated him for treating his staff like shit. He listened when she threatened to leave. But simultaneously, Joanna enjoys indulging his obsession with plans for Apple. She enjoys pleasing him and making him happy.
Hoffman and Jobs’s have a weird and rare relationship. But of course, Winslet handles it, acting opposite Michael Fassbender and nailing that unconventional ‘work wife’ role, sidestepping inappropriate comments and ugly behaviour Jobs throws around. Winslet’s accurate, loyal portrayal of Joanna could be put down to her own admiration for the feisty marketing executive. When asked about Joanna, Winslet said:
“She was an extraordinary, feisty Eastern European person who was pretty much the only person who could actually knock sense into Steve, and she was also kind of an emotional compass.”
An emotional compass, I feel is the perfect description of both Joanna Hoffman and Kate Winslet.
Still delivers, even when a victim of plot
The Holiday (2006)
The IMDB description alone is enough to have people running a mile:
Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.
And the thought of Jack Black as a love interest is… questionable. But somehow Winslet comes through and carries the film, while managing to outshine her co-stars (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black), with her ability to understand equally, the simplest of relationships to the most difficult.
Director Nancy Myers wrote the part of Iris Simpkins with Winslet in mind, so arguably she had the advantage – it’s not often characters are created with a certain someone in mind. Nonetheless, Winslet makes Iris her own. Yep there’s a ‘will she won’t she’ airport scene. Yep, there’s talk of a long-distance relationship that could actually work. And yep there’s a moment of clarity for each character in which they ditch their scumbag partners.
We’ve heard and seen it all before. But somehow Winslet’s performance stands out. Her naturalness with on-screen brother, Graham (Jude Law) is subtle enough to consider them as true siblings. And her shy, awkwardness with potential love interest, Miles Dumont is believable – her feigned butterflies almost visible.
Labour Day (2013)
Although Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel is unlikely to be remembered in years to come, Winslet excels as depressed single mum, Adele.
Of course, she’s wonderful alongside convicted criminal, Frank, played by Josh Brolin. Even though Labour Day is a coming-of-age novel, this didn’t translate on-screen. Instead of learning more about Henry and his relationship with his mother through voyeurism, it becomes all about Adele and Frank – we don’t care about Henry. We just want to watch more of the wonderfully-intimate pie-making scenes (a sentence I never thought I’d say).
Yet again, Winslet’s facial expressions alone are enough to carry the entire film – a slight lip falter, an eyebrow drooping, the vacant eyes. And then the stark contrast when Adele experiences happiness for the first time in years – Winslet’s face is warm, full of expression, eyes bright. All of this works together to give one of the most heartbreaking, bittersweet performances of her career. Who cares if Labour Day didn’t win awards? Winslet’s acting will forever cement it in my heart.
A decidedly good (but seemingly secret) sense of humour
Even someone as great at playing tough, emotional roles as Winslet, needs a respite. In the third episode of Ricky Gervais’s Extras, Winslet is fantastically-funny, showing a side to her craft we’d never seen before.
She rolls with the punches, joins in with the ‘celeb-bashing’ and is remarkably good at talking dirty. Her naughty, dark and infectious humour is enjoyable to watch and is appreciated all the more as these kinds of performances are few and far between.
Flushed Away (2006)
Fresh off the back of her humous display in Extras, Winslet voiced Rita – an ‘enterprising scavenger rat’ alongside Hugh Jackman as Roddy St James. I feel at this point in her career, Winslet though, “Why not?” (or maybe after her Extras appearance, “Fuck it!”).
Much like Labour Day, Flushed Away won’t be the film we tell our grandchildren to watch. It’s pretty forgettable, apart from it’s so captivating to hear Kate Winslet’s cockney accent come from a smart-talking street rat.
So used we are to hearing her eloquent vernacular, so used we are to seeing her in period drama costume. There’s something quite refreshing seeing (and hearing) Winslet do something quite different – showcasing her range as an actress.
An emotional powerhouse, on-screen chemistry expert and wickedly funny, Kate Winslet successfully secured her place as one of the best actresses of the last twenty years.
And now, after earning her awards and honing her craft, she’s experimenting with different genres and characters – and we’re going to be there with her every step of the way. Because she’s earned it.