now Kate Winslet is probably best known for having recently divorced her
husband, Jim Threapleton, and become the regular squeeze of
Oscar-winning film director Sam Mendes. Well, thatís the price of
fame, I suppose.
A year earlier she was best known for being a new celebrity mum and not
long before that she was best known for allegedly being fat. The same
newspapers that on one page urgently warned young girls about the
dangers of anorexia were, on the next, castigating Winslet for being
overweight, and all that is the price of fame, too.
I canít imagine that so much publicity and eager, not to say prurient,
interest is particularly welcome to her, especially as it rather ignores
the reason why she attracted so much attention in the first place Ė
namely, that she is the best young actress in Britain.
I make this claim not because, aged 22, she set some kind of record by
becoming the youngest performer ever to receive two Oscar nominations
(for Sense and Sensibility and Titanic). That was
gratifying, but not important, and the fact that she didnít win either
award isnít important either. What is significant, however, is the
sensible way she has conducted her career. I donít think her choices
have always been particularly sensible but there is nothing wrong with
her reasons for making them. After Titanic brought her
international fame she could easily have gone the well-paid Hollywood
route but she didnít want that. Instead she starred in a small British
picture, Hideous Kinky, as a hippy mother taking her two young
daughters on a spiritual trip to Marrakech.
Nice idea but it didnít really work. And though Holy Smoke, in
which she played an Australian girl caught up, to her parentsí dismay,
in a quasi-religious cult, was better and more ambitious this was not a
great commercial success either. What both films did for her, though,
was to provide the opportunity to explore and extend her range,
something in which Hollywood movies have little interest.
Mind you, her agents, she says, "were miserable" and if I had
been her agent, knowing how much money she could have earned simply by
purveying her looks and sex appeal in empty blockbusters, I would have
been miserable, too. But she was right. Well, up to a point. If, as
rumoured, she turned down the Gwyneth Paltrow role in Shakespeare in
Love, then that was a serious mistake but, come on, we all make
From the age of 18 when she made her first film, Heavenly Creatures,
she has shown exceptional talent, but talent, unless nourished and
honed, can easily fade away. Winslet has been nourishing and honing hers
in a series of offbeat roles Ė the Marquis de Sadeís prison
chambermaid in the remarkable and eye-catching Quills, Dougray
Scottís dowdy, bespectacled helper in Enigma and now the young
Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench being the older one) in Iris. Period
pieces, all of them, each heavily dependent on corsets. Itís difficult
to think of any other young actress (she is still only 26) who could
have done such different things so well. But, of course, the danger
inherent in playing so many supporting roles, however attractive they
might be, is that people can quickly forget that she also has the
desirable attributes of the leading lady.
So now, again sensibly, she is redressing that with The Life of David
Gale, directed by the recently knighted Alan Parker, in which,
co-starring with Kevin Spacey, she plays a journalist who becomes
involved with a convicted criminal on death row in Texas. A modern drama
this, mercifully corset-free.
Movies are a fickle business. Fame and popularity can be cruelly
ephemeral and itís hard, particularly for an actress, to organise a
continuing career. At the moment Kate Winslet seems to be doing it