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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Kate Winslet’s birthday: How Mare of Easttown changed the way leading ladies are seen

On Kate Winslet's birthday, we revisit her fine performances in two miniseries -- Mildred Pierce (2011) and Mare of Easttown (2021).

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
October 5, 2021 11:18:48 am
kate winsletKate Winslet in Mildred Pierce and Mare of Easttown, respectively. (Photos: HBO)

British actor Kate Winslet has been part of some great films in her career. From the independent movies to an out-and-out romantic spectacle, Winslet has done it all. Mostly known for her commendable performances in films, Winslet has also frequently dabbled in the television medium, even back when she was starting out (read Get Back, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and Dark Season). In present times too, when television content has taken on a whole new meaning, Winslet has marked her presence in the space, and how. Today’s TV is more bold, inventive and unafraid to take risks, which goes in sync with Winslet’s ability to challenge and morph herself into a new person come every project. Her experiments with modern television has been particularly rewarding, for her and for us, the audience.

A decade ago, Kate jumped at the chance to portray a self-sacrificing mother with a troubled personal history and a hardship-filled professional life in Mildred Pierce. More recently, Kate Winslet’s winning turn in HBO miniseries Mare of Easttown has won her praise from all corners.

Mildred Pierce

Based on the 1941 James M Cain novel of the same name, Mildred Pierce had first been adapted into the 1945 movie which featured a scintillating Joan Crawford. The noir movie was well-made and boasted of an exceptional performance by the lead. The film had so much influence on the people who had watched it that they had strong reservations about Winslet being cast in a second interpretation of the source material. However, Winslet’s was not a movie, it was an American miniseries helmed by the talented Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Carol and Dark Waters).

The narrative focuses on a mother who is willing to go to any lengths to win her daughter’s approval. But it is the Great Depression, and Winslet’s character does not only have to manage things personally, but take care of stuff work-wise too. Estranged from her husband, falling for a man and hoping to smoothen things with her daughter Veda (a terrific Evan Rachel Wood), Winslet’s Mildred does things only a hopelessly-in-love parent could have done. And still she somehow fails. The show is upsetting, and throws light on an aspect of parent-child relationship that doesn’t often gets talked about. We only think romantic love can be all-consuming, but the kind of sacrifices and battles our parents fight for us, which all parents do usually, is unique and a wonder to behold. Sometimes, it also seems unreasonable, especially if you are not a parent yourself. It is this emotional vulnerability that Winslet brings out in the show which catches hold of you, and doesn’t leave your side till the very last episode.

Mare of Easttown

This wonderful, honestly written character now in hindsight seems tailor-made for someone of Kate Winslet’s caliber. Tortured but not transparent with her emotions, a great detective but will not mind stepping into some questionable areas that could jeopardies her career; to say that Mare Sheehan is a complex character would be an understatement. There are many shades of right and wrong, grey and white within us and it is that very spectrum that Winslet manages to show us within this seven-part series. Her body language, her on-point American accent, and while doing that not losing sight of the bigger picture, of the humaneness of Mare, is a feat. Winslet deserved every accolade that came her way.

In an interview with the New York Times, the actor had revealed that she did not want her on-screen appearance to be tampered with in any manner. Apparently, when director Craig Zobel told her not to worry about the belly fat, the actor said no, she did not want it ‘touched’. “‘They were like ‘Kate, really, you can’t,’ and I’m like ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back.’” Without trying to make it sound bigger than it is, that is exactly what an artiste means when they say they ‘search for the truth’ in a role. Because in that moment, Kate Winslet is not a stunning Hollywood superstar, she is instead an awe-inspiring woman who is simultaneously broken and strong. A woman who is unafraid to be who she really is. So how could Kate be scared to be Mare, when Mare herself doesn’t believe in stepping back?

At the face of it, Mare of Easttown comes of like a whodunit, which it is. But what lies at the core of the series is a tale of this courageous woman who is petrified to look deep within herself, at her past. She does not like confrontations, and she is not exactly okay with therapy. But slowly, as she begins to open up with her therapist, Mare unravels, on all fronts, and that changes her forever.

Despite some amount of whitewashing, it would be hard to deny Mare of Easttown’s brilliance. As far as Kate Winslet is considered, that is all she has been in most of her career. And especially so in the aforementioned miniseries.

You can watch both the shows on Disney Plus Hotstar. 

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