From Peter Jackson to James Cameron: Kate Winslet’s 10 best film performances
“Life is short, and it is here to be lived.” – Kate Winslet
English actress Kate Winslet has established herself as one of the biggest names in the film industry with stellar performances in cult-classics like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well as popular works like Titanic. She has received widespread commercial success and critical acclaim, including three BAFTA Awards, an Emmy Award, a Grammy and an Academy Award for her work in The Reader.
In an interview, Winslet said, “For me, the bottom line is to play things that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to play. 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.”
She added, “The truth is, I don’t want to burn out. I always want to be interested and interesting to other people. Things start to shift and change as one gets older and you become a more interesting person. I need to keep mixing it up if I want to do this for the long haul, and I definitely do, so that seems to be the most sensible way about doing it.”
On her 45th birthday, we revisit some of Kate Winslet’s best film performances as a tribute to one of the top contemporary acting talents.
Kate Winslet’s 10 best films:
10. Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes – 2008)
Set in 1950s America, Revolutionary Road is an exploration of the idea of a romantic relationship and the normative and performative roles all of us are expected to play. Mendes proves that he is more than capable of telling intimate stories that are universal in their appeal. Based on Richard Yates’ 1961 novel of the same name, Revolutionary Road is an intelligent adaptation in which Mendes adds something of his own to make the film feel familiar but new at the same time.
Mendes’ 2008 film is a tragic story of an entropic marriage that, like everything else, is inevitably doomed. The Wheelers (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) are brilliant and manage to create very memorable characters. Winslet won a Golden Globe for her performance.
“We’ve all been in those situations,” Mendes said. “Maybe not as extreme as April and Frank, but we’ve all found ourselves in bad relationships. We’ve all found ourselves trapped in situations we felt were not of our own making. And we’ve all found ourselves being dragged away from what we felt we really wanted in life. I think if I didn’t find some parallel with myself than I would have found it more difficult to make.”
9. Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson – 1994)
Peter Jackson’s 1994 psychological thriller marked Winslet’s film debut. The film follows the story of two teenage girls who become increasingly dependent on each other. When their parents try to separate them, they decide to take matters into their own hands by murdering one of the girls’ mothers.
Despite being harassed on set, Winslet said, “I really, genuinely could not fault for one second the experience I had on Heavenly Creatures overall, and I actually would almost hold it up as being my most treasured film experience, because it was just so lucky that I was given that part. But it’s just that one flicker of a moment.”
8. Quills (Philip Kaufman – 2000)
A film adaptation of the award-winning eponymous 1995 play by Doug Wright, Quills conducts a fascinating re-imagination of Marquis de Sade’s (played by Geoffrey Rush) final years at an asylum. As a punishment for causing political turmoil, the emperor takes away his pens and quills which prompts de Sade to seek the help of Madeline (Winslet), a laundry girl.
Co-star Joaquin Phoenix said, “I was exhausted. We shot virtually in order; some of the most intense scenes were in those last weeks. The last three weeks on Quills I didn’t know if I could make it through the day. But Geoffrey Rush would come in, or Kate Winslet, and inspire you. It’s a joint effort; you need everyone around you.”
7. Iris (Richard Eyre – 2001)
Richard Eyre’s 2001 biopic recounts the life of famous novelist Iris Murdoch. It follows Murdoch’s relationship with her husband, starting from their student lives to her fight with Alzheimer’s. For her performance as the younger Murdoch, Winslet received her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Judi Dench played the older Iris Murdoch.
Speaking about her character, Winslet recalled, “I play Iris Murdoch as a young woman. I knew of her, but I wasn’t familiar with her novels. That didn’t matter, though – because the film is about her life and things that we only now know because of the books by her husband, John Bayley.”
She added, “I read them over and over again, but the most useful for me was a video of interviews that Iris Murdoch gave when she was about 60. These were great, not because I wanted to mimic her voice and how she moved, but because they gave me a sense of her essence.”
6. Little Children (Todd Field – 2006)
Based on Tom Perrotta’s best-selling novel, Little Children features Winslet as an unhappily married woman who indulges in an affair with a stay at home dad (played by Patrick Wilson) in order to escape the suburban ennui. Winslet earned Best Actress nominations at the Golden Globes, the Oscars, and the BAFTA Awards.
Winslet said, “Todd had wanted to meet with me and discuss the possibility of me doing this and playing this part. The thing that was so different about this process, of committing to playing Sarah, was that Todd sat me down and – I’ve never had this before – he was very, very specific about why he thought that I could play that part.
“In really minute detail to the point where I thought: ‘God, I feel good about myself now! Of course I could play this part!’ [Laughs] But it’s a big decision to make, to play someone like Sarah because it’s such a challenge. She’s an American woman and is nothing like me essentially.”
5. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle – 2015)
Danny Boyle’s 2015 biopic paints a compelling portrait of one of the biggest tech icons of all time, Steve Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender). Winslet won her seventh Oscar nomination and third Golden Globe for her performance as Joanna Hoffman, Head of Marketing and Jobs’ main support.
“What intrigued me when I first read the script was that there weren’t that many people in it,” Winslet explained. “How clever to make a film about this man, who had achieved everything, and to keep it as a play. The fact that Aaron Sorkin wrote these words was an exciting prospect. Danny Boyle directing, even though I hadn’t worked with him, was another big fat box I could check. Throw in Fassbender, and I gotta get in that room.”
4. Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee – 1995)
Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of the famous Jane Austen novel features Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, the younger sister of Elinor (played by Emma Thompson). She received widespread critical acclaim for her performance which won her the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress and she went on to receive her first Oscar nomination for the film.
“But I’m not that period babe, not at all,” Winslet addressed her fears of being pigeonholed as a period piece specialist. “I haven’t really sat back and addressed the fact I have done all these period films. Some people say, ‘Don’t you want to do something modern?’ I suppose I do. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing at all. I do feel very comfortable in the clothing.”
3. The Reader (Stephen Daldry – 2008)
Winslet won her first Academy Award for this 2008 drama. The Reader stars Winslet as as a woman who has an affair during WWII with a young man and then is later tried for Nazi war crimes. She also won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and awards from almost every prestigious critics’ circles.
“The role, the character, the novel first came to my attention six years ago, when I was pregnant with our son, Joe,” Winslet revealed. “I read the book and I was 27 at the time and I was absolutely gripped and compelled and ultimately devastated by the novel and immediately thought, ‘Oh well, someone must be making this into a movie.”
2. Titanic (James Cameron – 1997)
This three-hour epic presents one of the world’s most tragic events in the form of a love story. It addresses issues ranging from the anthropocentric arrogance of man’s belief in technology to class conflicts. Winslet plays Rose, a 17-year old aristocrat who falls in love with a poor Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film swept the Academy Awards, winning 11 prizes including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing for Cameron.
Cameron reflected, “Titanic was conceived as a love story. If I could have done it without one effect, I would’ve been happy. It was definitely a goal to integrate a very personal, emotional style with spectacle – and try to make that not be chocolate syrup on a cheeseburger, you know. The cathartic experience is what made the film work.”
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry – 2004)
Written by the acclaimed Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is undoubtedly Winslet’s best film and it also features the best performance of her career. Unlike the period pieces she mostly featured in, this 2004 work of art conducts a surreal psychological examination of the nature of a romantic relationship. Kaufman won the Academy Award for his screenplay and Winslet earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Winslet said, “It’s really fun to take risks and it’s really fun to play lots of different characters. Clementine was the most eccentric part that I’ve ever played. I just had so much fun doing her. What an unlikely pairing. I mean, you wouldn’t imagine that Jim Carrey and I would ever do a movie together.
“When I was sent the script and was asked to do it, I just thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m not going to do this’ because I knew that it would be a totally new experience and very challenging, which it was both of those things.”