Barry Norman on Kate Winslet

 

The Radio Times

January 19-25, 2002

 

 

Right 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 mistakes.

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 pretty well.