Kate Winslet has gotten a lot of praise for “Mare of Easttown,” which, because my brain is twisted, I keep calling “Mare of Winningham.”
To some, Winslet is primarily known for “Titanic,” or the pretty world of “Sense and Sensibility,” and her turn as the scrappy and depressed Mare has been a surprise. The Winslet they expected was a glamorous young actress in big-budget movies headed for more glamorous roles in other big-budget movies. Instead, she has spent the past 25 years working in an impressive variety of roles, many of which have fallen outside of the mainstream.
I’m thinking about WInslet’s career in the wake of her “Mare” triumph, and there are two other Winslet TV moments that I want to point out. The first is in Ricky Gervais’s “Extras,” a show in which actors play comic versions of themselves (as in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Netflix’s wonderful “Call My Agent”). In her episode, Winslet is in a nun’s habit on a movie set, and she tries to help two extras, played by Gervais and Ashley Jensen, come up with some filthy fodder for phone sex. At another point, she tells them, with crude cynicism, “If you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar” (which, later on, came true for Winslet). She is hysterical.
Winslet’s other unforgettable TV role was as the titular character in Todd Haynes’s elegant five-part adaptation of “Mildred Pierce,” which ran on HBO 10 years ago (and is available on HBO and HBO Max). Her Mildred is an abandoned mother of two fighting to survive in the shadow of the Depression, coping with a daughter (played chillingly by Evan Rachel Wood) who is a narcissistic nightmare. Rather than a noir with a murder plot, like Joan Crawford’s 1945 version, this “Mildred Pierce” stays true to James M. Cain’s story. It’s a soapy miniseries, but Haynes, director of “Far From Heaven,” knows how to do period soap with a hidden edge.
As Mildred, Winslet isn’t a saint, but she is sympathetic; she makes a long string of bad decisions and she unwittingly enables her horrid daughter in her horridness. She is a woman in a man’s world, fighting to succeed and to “have it all” at a time when that was rare. Deservedly, she won an Emmy for the role.