Kate Winslet 2: family, friends and lovers

Apart from noting that she’s played characters with the same name a few times, I also started to browse for themes among the relationships of the roles Kate Winslet plays. In the last post on her, I looked at whether she goes mad and dies in all her films. In this one I’m wondering: is she a mother often, a lover, a sister/daughter or a friend?

I note that the relationship that appears in nearly all her films is lover; only in small parts (such as Divergent/Insurgent and the Extras episode) does she not have romance – with the exception of The Life of David Gale, where the principal relationship is between her as journalist to condemned campaigner. In Steve Jobs, her relationship is again to the titular man in a professional sense and her own family is unmentioned. In Contagion she barely has a relationship at all, but is part of a much wider cast.

Kate has often played a mum, talking about this at great (and I have to say) cloying length in interviews. She was first a mum in 1998’s Hideous Kinky, when she was yet to be one herself. She spends her promotional material for Little Children saying what a bad mum her character Sarah is, unlike her, and how she found the scatty adventure loving mum roles hard. Kate’s very keen we know she’s not like that to her own children, dropping in anecdotes of how close and involved they are.

But as for being part of a family in her films, this is a rare scenario. The few times we see Kate’s character’s parents, it’s often dysfunctional – an easy word to slap on most of us – but Juliet of Heavenly Creatures is unhappy in the love triangled, emigrating Hulme family; in Holy Smoke, although there’s a strong link with her mum, she’s betrayed by her whole kooky family into being captured to be deprogrammed by an arrogant stranger. Rose’s so desperate to escape her snakily controlling mum that she allows her to think Rose is dead after Titanic sinks. In Quills, Madeleine bed shares with her mum whom she works with, and is one of her happiest mother daughter roles, putting a protective arm round her blind mum when they’re interrogated. I note she’s often got an absent father –  in Sense and Sensibility and Quills; and he leaves the family for an affair in Holy Smoke. The only time sisters are important is Sense and Sensibility and we see brothers in All the Kings Men and The Holiday. Quite often, her own birth family’s not mentioned.

Even rarer is friendship. Other than her debut film, where the friendship is seen by some as psychopathic and unhealthy, Kate is not really with any significant friends in her films. I’d like to make clear that I don’t consider the possibly gay or homo-romantic relationship in Heavenly Creatures as unhealthy, mad or anything to do with the crime they commit, except for the bigotry and paranoia which led to the attempt to separate them. But it’s notable that Kate’s never had much onscreen companionship since. Ruth’s got Prue in Holy Smoke, who tells on her, and there’s a girly posse who arrive and warmly greet her on her return from India. In Hideous Kinky, there’s the small part of Eva who appears as the veiled fellow Sufi-chaser, but little mention of friends at home; I’m not quite sure that the rich house Julia stays in could be called friends. Adele has only one friend by default in Labor Day (the neighbour with the disabled son Barrie). In other films, she’s got people round her – often workmates, such as Quills, or other mums she meets at the playground and her walking/book group older friend in Little Children, but she’s not really close or always happy. There’s friendship with other couples in Iris (although secondary to her lovers, which many of them also were) and Revolutionary Road. In The Holiday, she makes a friend with an older man, returned screenwriter.

Kate’s characters don’t always have a wide circle. Writers often have to choose a small bunch of characters round our protagonist that is not representative of the breadth of interactions we’d have in life. But Kate’s often working with one or two others (in Contagion and The Reader she seems mostly isolated), and sometimes it’s implied she doesn’t have unseen other friends. Did Rose have friends mentioned in Titanic, did Hester in Enigma seem to know anyone but house sharing Claire, on whom she has a crush? Clem in Eternal Sunshine has a pair of friends who are mutual with her ex.

The ten year anniversary of that film in Britain will be marked with a special post.

I’d like to come full circle and suggest that Kate’s characters’ repeating madness and demise (the topic of my previous post) is often because of her romantic relationships. It is almost ubiquitous in her 20 year career. I’ll explain more in another post.

I’d like to end with sharing my disappointment that Kate takes so few roles which embody strong friendships, and for all the many articles I’ve read about her, I have not heard her extol friendship in an interview either.

More thoughts on Ms Winslet anon.


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