Another Kate Winslet post as I got the nearest to actually seeing her – except, I was, in the words of U2, faraway so close. I attended a gala screening at her home country’s largest film festival, London’s 58th . “It’s so important to be here, I’ve been coming since I was 19” she said at the 57th LFF at the gala screening I missed. But this year’s red carpet contained only her co star and director, Alan Rickman; Kate sent a video message from Australia.
Disappointment aside – and it’s a big one, for I’d not only have seen her (and walked the same carpet) but heard her give a speech and quite possibly been able to ask her a question – I move to the film itself and how it fits in with my other observations about her career.
I’ve no idea if there’s an embargo but I am not doing any plot spoiling until the film is released in the UK and I’ll be sharing other reviews at that time.
So I have to be careful what I say on the mad or dead pattern, except that both are possibilities once again. There was a Titanic moment where she is submerged in water dramatically, though she’s less of the action heroine this time. Sabine De Barra is another woman who, like Adele in Labor Day, has something to reveal around motherhood which is affecting her life, and this is the opportunity for her to face that and move beyond it. Like Adele, Sabine is a woman who is not going out into the world as she might, and finds a portal in which to do so.
In Labor Day and Titanic, that portal is opened by someone else; in Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke, she’s chosen the adventure, as she has in A Little Chaos – she’s made an application which could get her from her own garden into a far wider one, which is very daring given her background and the era. (In fact, that is a criticism of the film’s premise I have). As always, she doesn’t walk through the portal alone. Her companions here are twofold – the head gardener, Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone which I talk about on here) and the King himself – Alan Rickman avec un wig.
Allow me a little chaos and divergence. Kate told Toronto Film Festival journalists last month that it was good to be English again, but I’m confused: yes it was filmed here and she’s talking in her normal accent, but it’s set in France. Alan Rickman was wrong at the premiere yesterday when he said it is all filmed here – Fontainebleau’s exterior is definitely a French chateau. Regarding the issues of the M25 [London’s ring road] and flight paths spoiling filming, I wanted to say to Alan – don’t be so Londocentric then! There’s plenty more of Britain! Neither Ham House nor Bleinham Palace are particularly French looking, and only Matthias Schoenaerts [too many double vowels] is French speaking (actually Belgian) out of the quite large cast, most of whom are British. This invites a Quills comparison – another French story with English speaking cast and accents, filmed close to London whilst Kate was pregnant. Kate’s not been in a European film for a decade, since Finding Neverland; she reminded me of her role as Sylvia when she played Sabine – perhaps it’s the blonde hairstyle and period setting and both characters’ genuine warmth. Kate also recalls Daenerys from Game Of Thrones, with very light hair and skin and dark eyebrows, and a sort of fairytale wench look (again invoking memory of Quills, though this is set over 100 years earlier, in 1680s).
As an ideas based historic drama with a central romance, A Little Chaos could be further compared with Quills, but whereas Quills’s content could shock, Chaos will have a lower cert and therefore wider audience. Chaos felt like the last time she worked with Alan Rickman – Sense and Sensibility – for the (I predict) crowd pleasing, anglophile loving audience who want to think, laugh, cry and gasp – the same recipe as James Cameron claimed to put into Titanic; but this is a peculiarly British offering of The King’s Speech et al mould, which has either royalty real life or aristocratic literature as its source.
Again, Kate’s relationship is focussed on a potential love interest, and like The Holiday, in a third older male figure who helps her free her strictures (that time it was Eli Good/Bad/Ugly Wallach, her Hollywood neighbour, helping her let go of her broken heart; this time, it’s the King, assisting in the same area). But she’s again lacking in female companionship. The LFF guide comments on the strength of women in A Little Chaos, but apart from her housekeeper and a bizarre scene with the underused Jennifer Ehle and the other courtly women (one of whom whips out her breasts) Sabine is surrounded by men. The only woman she might seriously have relationship with is a rival, almost enemy played by Helen McCrory: the wife of Andre.
Chaos as a theme in Kate’s films
Kate is nearly always involved in the bringing in of a new order and disturbing a pattern. Sometimes, as here, she is the instigator; often it’s that accomplice, such as Jack in Titanic, James Barrie in Finding Neverland, who begins something and she is a collaborator and instrument. Broken patterns include asylum running (Quills – she smuggles the writings of the person who causes it to be burned down and her own sensuality is a foil for the celibate Abbe in charge); she rocks the suitable marriage and a set out upper class life in Titanic; her stories and friendship bring disturbance to the expectations of her school and two families (and ultimately society) in Heavenly Creatures; as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility she does not behave as set out by society (though this is the one story she doesn’t break out of but conforms to the pattern, as I’ve written on here in more detail). She breaks patterns in Jude as the woman who won’t marry and thinks railway stations replace cathedrals as places to gather and be impressed; her going to India is about embracing a life that disturbs Sydney suburbia in Holy Smoke and then she ruins the de-programmer’s procedure. She’s also being chaotic in Hideous Kinky by going to another random by Western standards country on a whim with her children, without having secure work. As Adele in Labor Day she breaks with pattern when she becomes prison escapee Frank’s lover. Mildred Pierce is convention breaking for leaving her husband during the Depression and setting up her own business and supporting her play boy (and as a mother – she’s way off any expectation, for that or any time). In Enigma, she stirs up chaos at Bletchley Park by discovering a wartime official secret and going beyond her lowly duty to show what she is really capable of. Perhaps Enigma then is the closest precedent to A Little Chaos: a woman who fulfils her professional potential, ahead of her time in cahoots with an initially resistant man who is getting all the credit.
The antithesis would be Divergent where as Janine, Kate is busy creating and sustaining order after the chaos of revolution – and note this is her first baddie role. It is also true that Hanna in The Reader is someone who is obsessed by order, which replaces her ability to have a moral compass and relate compassionately: this was her least sympathetic, most morally challenged role to date (more on here on that film). The pattern of pattern breaking is also in Little Children (misfit mum has affair), Romance and Cigarettes (another affair and antithesis to S&S), Hamlet (for the affair and then her chaotic spiral into madness); and Iris and Eternal too are about someone who’s nonconformist; April’s busy breaking with convention to escape Revolutionary Road life, and strongly understood by a man with mental health problems who is seen as chaotic by society.
So there’s few films in the Winslet filmography where Kate plays someone who doesn’t fit my chaos theory.
But isn’t chaos part of a story’s tension, and therefore inevitable?
Look out for more of my reviews and analysis nearer the film’s UK release – links will be posted here.