After writing my post on Leonardo DiCaprio (which you can read here), it only makes sense to follow this on with a post on his most famous co-star, Kate Winslet. Following a meteoric rise during the 1990s, she also was nominated for a ton of Academy Awards before finally landing one in 2008. Her extensive resume has seen her play in period pieces, quirky indies and big-budget blockbusters. Winslet has become synonymous with the great British actresses of all time and is certainly among the best actresses working today.
Compiling a list of my top 5 performances was tricky because I knew instantly what they were; however, they come from the rise and peak of career so the last instalment is 2008. That isn’t to say that she hasn’t done good films since (the HBO series Mildred Pierce and Danny Boyle’s 2015 film Steve Jobs are proof of this) but these are the performances that stand out to me.
Here are my top 5 in chronological order:
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Peter Jackson’s graphic retelling of the controversial Parker-Hulme murders shows the imagination of two teenage friends as they descend into madness and fix fantasy and reality. Melanie Lynskey plays working-class Pauline Parker and Kate Winslet plays the affluent Juliet Hulme. Proving her acting chops at a young age, Winslet commands the screen as sickly Juliet. Winslet is magnetic in her role as a neglected teen, crumbling in the aftermath of her parents’ travelling, her fight with tuberculosis and her parents’ eventual divorce and lack of love for their daughter. She creates a world with working-class Pauline and together the two become completely entwined in their fantasyland known as Borovnia where artists are celebrated and religion is frowned upon. We see the girls become violently inseparable as reality and fantasy become one until the film’s horrific conclusion. The film catapulted Winslet into the public eye and served as a great debut that has made a lasting impact and showed how fearless an actor she is from a young age. Juliet is headstrong and has a brilliant imagination which is underlined with severe manipulation and a cruel nature.
So I have spoken about my love for this film in my Leonardo DiCaprio post and yes, this is the quintessential Winslet performance. James Cameron’s masterpiece sees Winslet stars as aristocrat passenger, Rose Dewitt Bukater, on the doomed 1912 liner. It’s the modern classic blockbuster that brings tears to my eyes every time. Winslet’s performance brought her a second Oscar nomination (the first being for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility) and first for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Winslet is perfect in the role of Rose, a young privileged woman crippled by the expectations of society. She longs for freedom and finds it when she meets the carefree, Jack (DiCaprio), a working-class artist who got his ticket through a lucky game of poker. They go through a lifetime of love within the space of a few days before the ship’s fate is sealed. We see Rose evolve throughout the film as the first act sees her trapped and unhappily engaged to Cal (Billy Zane) to finding love and freedom with Jack (DiCaprio) and the final act sees her lose that love but keeping her freedom. Rose’s evolution to unshackle herself from the expectations of society is a testament to Winslet’s ability to show Rose as more than a damsel in distress.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This film marked a huge turn in Winslet’s resume as she has become known for starring in period films. Charlie Kaufman’s insanely brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows the hopeless Joel (Jim Carrey) as he becomes enamoured with the mysterious and colourful Clementine (Winslet). When their relationship falls apart, Clementine goes to the controversial Lacuna Incorporated where people have their memories swiped of a specific person to rid . Joel attempts to do the same towards Clementine but tries to resist as he longs to hold onto the memories. The film is quirky, confusing and dazzling. It won the Academy Award for his brilliant screenplay and Winslet gained her third Oscar nomination. Clementine is deeply flawed but she is full of wonder and is a perfect opposite to Joel’s constant pessimism. Whereas Joel’s memory erasure comes out of malice for Clementine, hers came from the sadness of living a life in sadness. She is on a constant push to find belonging and love. I remember seeing this film for the first time and being mesmerised by Winslet’s performance. The character of Clementine is among my favourites of all time (as I discussed in my post on women in film which you can read here).
The Reader (2008)
The film that finally bagged Winslet the Oscar, The Reader is a World War II period film following a young teenager, Michael (David Kross), as he becomes involved in an affair with an older illiterate woman, Hanna Schmitz (Winslet), who is eventually arrested and tried for her involvement with the Nazi party. The first act of the film shows the affair and then skips straight to the trial as Michael has read about Hanna’s arrest in the paper. As we only hear about Hanna’s crimes rather than seeing them in the film, we see the other guards from the camp coerce her into taking the full blame for signing a document that authorised a mass killing despite the fact that she is illiterate. Her humiliation in being illiterate forces her to accept that it is her signature and she is sentenced to life in prison. It’s a deeply complex performance that shows a human beneath a monster. We see Hanna deteriorate as she truly understands what happened in the camp and it begins to destroy her as she teaches herself to read and write. It’s as though Hanna functioned in her own world which we saw at the beginning of the film and as she learns to read and write, her world opens up and she realises that reality exists and suffers the consequences of her actions. Winslet won the Best Actress in Leading Role for this but I firmly believe that she should have won the Supporting Actress gong for this and the Lead for Revolutionary Road but sadly her performance in The Reader was classed as lead for some reason. It’s a supporting role but a bloody good one.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Now for the film that should have won Winslet the Leading Actress Oscar, Revolutionary Road reunites Winslet and DiCaprio for the adaptation of the novel that centres on the Wheeler family and their struggle to achieve the American Dream in the 1940s. Winslet plays April Wheeler, the failed actress who is stuck in a life as a stay-at-home mum. This film was among the most hyped of the year as it was also directed by Winslet’s then-husband Sam Mendes as well. The film itself is brilliant and passionate as we’re taken through the couple’s relationship from its hopeful start to its tragic end. The character of April is extremely interesting as she refuses to fit the template of the 1950s housewife. She gets a job as a secretary and saves up money to move to Paris to start a new life. Aside from the two leads, Michael Shannon provides a very intense performance as the Wheelers’ neighbour, John, who has recently been discharged from an asylum and his mother, Helen who is played brilliantly by Kathy Bates. April’s descent into hatred for herself and her life is a distressing one to watch but the performance is breath-taking.
It goes without saying that Winslet is one of my favourite all-time actresses and I am excited to see what future projects she takes part in. She demonstrates time and time again her amazing range and the strong women she chooses to portray.
What do you think? What are your favourite Winslet performances? Let me know in the comments below!