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Angelina Jolie
Kate Winslet - Goddesses of the Silver Screen
135    Dibyendu Banerjee    22/03/2024

Known for her sharply drawn portrayals of headstrong, spirited, unusual and complicated women, Kate Elizabeth Winslet, an English actress, was born on 5 October 1975, in Reading, Berkshire, England, to Sally Ann and Roger John Winslet, both of whom were stage actors. Apart from that, her maternal grandparents were also actors and ran the Reading Repertory Theatre Company. Kate has two sisters and a brother and to support the family, her mother worked as a nanny, as well as a waitress, while her father took labouring jobs. As the family had limited financial means, they lived on free meal benefits and were supported by a charitable Trust, but the parents always made their kids feel cared for and that they were a supportive family. Living in a family of actors inspired Kate to pursue acting from a young age, even while attending St Mary and All Saints' Church of England primary school and at the age of five, she made her first stage appearance as Mary in her school's production of the Nativity play and appeared in her first professional performance at eleven, dancing opposite the Honey Monster in a commercial for Sugar Puffs, a kids' cereal.

kate winslet
With Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Over the next few years, Kate appeared on stage regularly and landed a few bit parts in sitcoms television series, but her first big break came at age 17, when among 175 girls, she was cast in the leading role of Juliet Hulmi, an obsessive adolescent in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994), based on the true story of two fantasy-gripped girls, Juliet and Pauline Parker and their eventual brutal killing of Parker’s mother.

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Although it was a strenuous job for Kate, as she found it difficult to detach herself from her character and often cried after returning home, the film was a critical breakthrough for her and was acclaimed as a bright-eyed ball of fire, lighting up in her every scene.

kate winslet
Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility (1995)

While promoting Heavenly Creatures in Los Angeles, Kate auditioned for a minor role, but was selected to play the much larger part of the recklessly romantic teenager Marianne Dashwood in an adaption of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility (1995), written and starring Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee. The film was a great commercial success and it also brought Kate Winslet to the attention of a larger audience. For her performance in the film, she earned the British Academy Film Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress and nominations for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award in the same category.

kate winslet
Kate in Jude (1996)

Next year, Kate starred in another literary adaptation, Jude (1996), based on Jude the Obscure, a novel by Thomas Hardy, playing the rebellious heroine Sue Bridehead, who fell for her cousin, Jude. Her performance in the film was praised by the reputed film critic Roger Ebert for the defiance she brought to the role and also stated that the role allowed her to display her acting range. In the same year, she also portrayed Ophelia, the doomed lover of the title character in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1996).

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Although the young Winslet was scared of performing Shakespeare alongside the established actors like Branagh and Julie Christie and helplessly felt that she did not possess the level of intellect required for the job, critic Mike Jeffries opined that she had played the role well beyond her years.

kate winslet
In Titanic (1997), with Leonardo DiCaprio

However, the role that established Kate Winslet as a global star, was Rose DeWitt Bukater, the passionate, rosy-cheeked, wealthy, idealistic young woman who pursues a brief but passionate affair with Jack Dawson, a struggling artist, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Although Winslet was keen on playing Rose DeWitt Bukater, Cameron was initially reluctant to cast her, preferring the actors likes Gwyneth Paltrow or Claire Danes for the role, Kate’s persistence led the director to change his decision and give her the role. But it proved to be a taxing tax for Kate, as the workload allowed her only four hours of sleep per day and she felt drained by the experience. Moreover, while filming, she almost drowned, caught influenza, suffered from hypothermia, and had bruises on her arms and knees.

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Nevertheless, against expectations, the film set box-office records and won eleven Academy Awards, including the Best Picture Award, while Kate Winslet earned a Best Actress nomination, making her the youngest actress to ever receive two Academy Award nominations, along with a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination for Best Actress.

kate winslet
In Hideous Kinky (1998)

Following the unexpected phenomenon generated by Titanic, Winslet intended to avoid roles in blockbuster films in favour of independent productions that were not widely seen, believing that she had to learn a lot and was unprepared to be a star. Even, she turned down the lead role in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love to play a a disillusioned young single British mother in search of a new life, travelling in 1970s Morocco with her two daughters in tow in Hideous Kinky (1998), based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the British author Esther Freud.

kate winslet
In Holy Smoke (1999)

After that, she played the unusual role of a brainwashed Australian woman, who joins an Indian religious cult in the psychological drama, Holy Smoke (1999), directed by the New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion. The film required her to speak with an Australian accent, perform explicit sex scenes with co-star Harvey Keitel and featured a scene in which her character appears naked and urinates on herself. However, despite everything, she accepted the role, as she found the script brave and bravely accepted the challenge to portray the unusual, unlikeable character, for which she was praised by many, while David Rooney of Variety stated that very few young actors would be capable of showing the kind of courage, which Kate Winslet exhibited in the film, proving her extraordinary range.

kate winslet
In Quills (2000)

The next year found Kate back in period dress as appeared in Quills (2000), playing the supporting role of a sexually repressed laundress working in a mental asylum and smuggling manuscripts written by Marquis de Sade, the French writer and political activist, best known for his libertine novels and imprisonment for sex crimes, out of the insane asylum. For her performance in the film, Kate Winslet was hailed as the most daring actress of the day, praised for continuing to explore the bounds of sexual liberation and also received a SAG Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, she played a fictitious mathematician, Hester Wallace, involved in the cracking of the Enigma ciphers in the espionage thriller Enigma (2001) and also portrayed the novelist Iris Murdock in Iris (2001), for which she received her third Oscar nomination, in addition to BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

kate winslet
Iris (2001)

By that time, Winslet was eager to avoid historical dramas and portray roles in contemporary-set films, which she found in the scientific romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), in which she appeared as Clementine, a neurotic and impetuous woman who erased the memories of her ex-boyfriend Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey. Considered by several critics as one of the best films of the 21st century, the film proved to be a modest financial success. Nevertheless, Kate considers it to be a favourite among her roles and marked a turning point in her career, for which she received the Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Actress.

kate winslet
With Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

However, despite her reluctance to star in another period piece, Kate also appeared in Finding the Neverland (2004) in the same year, in which she appeared as the recently widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, with four adolescent sons, who becomes increasingly weak from an unidentified illness. Eventually, the film became her most widely seen film since Titanic and for her portrayal of the character in the film, Winslet earned her second BAFTA nomination for Best Actress nomination in the same year.

kate winslet
In Little Children (2006)

In her next important film, Little Children (2006), Kate Winslet appeared as Sarah Pierce, a housewife tied in a loveless marriage to an advertising executive and desperately longs to refuse to be trapped in an unhappy life, resulting in an adulterous affair with a. married neighbour. It was a challenging role for her, as she was required to be rude and hostile towards the child actress playing the role of her daughter, which proved upsetting for her, the loving mother of two children. In addition, having given birth to two children, she was also rather nervous about appearing nude in the sex scenes. However, she successfully registered Sarah's pride, self-doubt and desire, inspiring a mixture of recognition, pity and concern and earned her fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, the youngest performer to earn as many as five Oscar nominations, along with a BAFTA Award nomination. The same year, Kate Winslet also starred in Nancy Mayer’s commercially successful romantic comedy The Holiday (2006), playing Iris, a Briton who temporarily exchanges home with an American, played by Cameron Diaz during the Christmas.

kate winslet
Kate in The Reader (2008)

In 2008, Kate Winslet played two critical roles, which include Revolutionary Road (2008) that traces the tribulations of a young married couple in 1950s suburban America. In the film, directed by her the then husband Sam Mendes, she played the role of April Wheeler, a housewife yearning for a better life, opposite to her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor and also earned a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Leading Actress. For her role in The Reader (2008), about the illiterate Nazi Concentration Camp guard Hanna Schmitz, who has an affair with a teenage boy, Kate Winslet researched the Holocaust and the SS guards and also spent time with the students at the Literacy Partners, acting as an adult education centre for illiterate adults, to educate herself on the stigma of illiteracy. But despite her professional aptitude, she was unable to sympathise or justify Hanna Schmitz and had to struggle hard to portray the role honestly without humanising the character's actions. However, for her stunning portrayal of the character, she won the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Actress, along with a Golden Globe Award, making history to become the third actress to win two Golden Globe Awards, for Revolutionary Road and The Reader, at the same ceremony.

kate winslet
Kate in Labor Day (2013)

Among her subsequent films, Kate Winslet appeared as an epidemiologist analysing the spread of a deadly virus in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), as one of the four parents entangled in a dispute about child rearing in Roman Polanski’s the black comedy Carnage (2011), a single mother who develops a relationship with an escaped convict in Labor Day (2013), for which she received her tenth Golden Globe nomination and in The Dressmaker (2015), in which she appeared in the title role of the glamorous femme fatale Myrtle Tilly Dunnage, a seamstress, who returns to her hometown in the country, years after she was accused of murder. Apart from that, she received her third Golden Globe Award and also earned her seventh Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Joanna Hoffman, in Danny Boyle’s biopic Steve Jobs (2015), After that, she as the photojournalist Alex Martin in The Mountain Between Us (2017), an adventure drama about strangers who survive a plane crash on an icy and lonely mountain range, filmed in the mountains of Western Canada, in a temperature below the freezing point. In the film, Winslet performed her own stunts and described her task as the most physically taxing experience of her career. In the recent years she made her presence in James Cameron's science fiction film Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) that ranks as the third highest-grossing film of all time and Winslet's second film, after Titanic.

kate winslet
A scene from The Mountain Between Us (2017)

In her personal life, the fifteen-year-old Kate Winslet began a romantic relationship with English actor and writer Stephen Tredre, whom she met on the set of a British Television serial. Despite the age difference of twelve years, they lived together in London for five years, until they broke up in 1995, at Tredre’s insistence. Stephen Tredre died of bone cancer two years later and Kate missed the premiere of Titanic in Los Angeles on 14 December for attending his funeral. A year after Tredre's death, Winslet met assistant director Jim Threapleton, while filming Hideous Kinky and they married on 22 December 1998 at her primary school in Reading. The couple had a daughter and they divorced on 13 December 2001. Later, Winslet described their marriage as a mess and stated that during that period she had lost control of her instincts. Soon after separating from Threapleton, Kate met director Sam Mendes and they began dating. Subsequently, they married on 24 May 2003 and after seven years of marriage, they divorced on 3 October 2010, amid intense media speculation of an affair between Mendes and English actress Rebecca Hall. After that, Winslet met Edward Abel Smith while holidaying at British business magnate Richard Branson’s estate on Necker Island in 2011 and married him on 5 December 2012, with whom she has a son. Today, she likes to schedule her filming commitments around their school holidays and turns down offers of work that otherwise would take her away from her children for too long.

kate winslet

Throughout her career, Kate Winslet tried to avoid typecasting and despite achieving stardom early in her career with the blockbuster Titanic, she has rarely acted in the commerce-driven film. She has the unique ability to shape and represent restless, troubled, discontented, disconcerted, unusual and difficult women and can easily portray the characters who are free-spirited with a sexual edge to them. Although known for her readiness to perform nude scenes, having done so in more than a dozen of her films, she considers its contribution to the narrative before agreeing to it and believes that such scenes promote a positive body image among women. She belongs to the elite group of esteemed British actresses, who typically show restraint, rendering emotions through intellect rather than feelings. Termed as a dramatic force, turning her hand to all kinds of periods and genres with an inimitable sense of dignity and strength, Kate Winslet was voted one of the 50 greatest actors of all time in a 2022 readers' poll by Empire, a British film magazine. In the 2012 Queen's Birthday Honours List, she was awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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