Leo Barraclough salutes this year’s Variety Award recipient, an actor whose appetite for creative challenges is matched by her dazzling ability to meet them all.
At the Moët British Independent Film Awards 2015, Kate Winslet was honoured with The Variety Award, which recognises a director, actor, writer or producer who has made a global impact, and helped to focus the international spotlight on the UK.
Variety executive editor, Steven Gaydos, comments: ‘Kate Winslet has never ceased in her eagerness to tackle new creative challenges and to turn those challenges into amazing, lasting performances. Her current film, Steve Jobs, is no exception, and once again, the awards season conversation is immeasurably enlivened by her presence.’
Her movie debut was as Juliet Hulme, a malevolent schoolgirl, in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. ‘Winslet is a bright-eyed ball of fire, lighting up every scene she’s in,’ Washington Post reviewer Desson Howe wrote. The London Critics’ Circle named her best British actress for the role.
Winslet tells Diana Lodderhose in Variety’s BIFA special report: ‘I’d never had two scenes in a film before — I’d done theatre and TV — and suddenly I was one of the leads in this fantastic film directed by this cult movie director. I don’t know what kind of movie gods were looking down on me at the time, but it was a huge stroke of luck and just an extraordinary piece of work to be a part of.’
In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, she played Marianne Dashwood. Winslet was ‘outstanding as the high-flying romantic who gets her wings burned’, wrote Todd McCarthy in Variety, while the New York Times’ Janet Maslin described her as a ‘spirited and striking actress’. Winslet earned her first of six Oscar nominations, and won a BAFTA for the role.
Her status as critics’ darling continued with Michael Winterbottom’s Jude. Time magazine’s Richard Corliss said: ‘She’s perfect, a modernist ahead of her time,’ while Variety’s Derek Elley said she added ‘lustre and energy to Jude’ as ‘the feisty, independent-minded young femme’.
Watch Kate Winslet’s special highlights reel. Article continues below.
The success of James Cameron’s Titanic, in which she played Rose DeWitt Bukater, turned Winslet into a Hollywood star, as well as earning her another Oscar nomination. ‘I couldn’t quite believe that they had taken the risk in casting me and I was hugely excited,’ she tells Variety. ‘But making that shift from being a relatively unknown person to suddenly being famous for being in a film was, admittedly, tricky.’
Despite this success, Winslet remained loyal to the independent sector with roles in Gillies MacKinnon’s Hideous Kinky, Michael Apted’s Enigma and Richard Eyre’s Iris, among others.
In Iris, she played the free-spirited, bisexual young Iris, who is ‘an intellectual lightning rod powered by ideas and words and her own promise,’ Edward Guthmann at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. He added that Winslet was ‘superb as a woman who’s wiser, sharper than anyone she’s played onscreen before’. ‘Director Richard Eyre has struck gold. Twice. Dench and Winslet are a riveting match-up,’ said Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers. The role earned Winslet a third Oscar nomination.
Further Oscar nominations followed for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Todd Field’s Little Children, before Winslet achieved her first Academy Award win with Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, as well as a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.
In The Reader, she plays former concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz, who has an affair with a 15-year-old school boy, Michael Berg. ‘Winslet plays Hannah without a trace of self-pity and with a slight Wagnerian haughtiness that fits her circumstances; and as she embarks with Michael on a different but no less intimate relationship in their later years, she skilfully conveys the character’s shifts in consciousness,’ wrote Seattle P-I’s William Arnold.
Her role as April Wheeler in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road also attracted critical acclaim and another major award, a Golden Globe. ‘The glorious Winslet defines what makes an actress great, blazing commitment to a character and the range to make every nuance felt,’ wrote Rolling Stone’s Travers.
Winslet also earned plaudits for her venture into television drama. She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for playing the title role in Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce. Recent years have seen her appear in Roman Polanski’s Carnage, Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, sci-fi thriller Divergent and its sequel Insurgent, and Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos.
This year she’s appeared in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs as marketing executive Joanna Hoffman. Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan wrote: ‘The film’s Hoffman, Winslet has said, is something of a composite of several women who were key at Apple, but the actress plays her with a thrilling specificity, as she and Fassbender go head to head like opera stars throwing themselves into legendary duets.’
‘For me, the bottom line is to play things that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to play,’ Winslet tells Variety. ‘It’s important for me to do things that scare the shit out of me and things that don’t necessarily come easily. I like to make sure I feel challenged.’
Watch: Kate Winslet accepts the Variety Award, BIFA 2015