Joyce Fegan: Why Kate Winslet's 'fully functioning, flawed woman' resonates

The actress’s raw, unadorned, and unglamorous portrayal of middle age, in her TV show, ‘Mare of Easttown’, speaks to how we really live and how we really look
Joyce Fegan: Why Kate Winslet's 'fully functioning, flawed woman' resonates

Kate Winslet in 'The Mare of Easttown' has not only captured our pandemic selves, but also just ourselves.

Somewhere between planning staycations, fake tan applications and queuing to go clothes shopping, there is a space. In that space, you can still go make-up free, wear comfortable clothes, see your family during the middle of the day and eat from the carbohydrate food group.

The space is populated by Kate Winslet, and her character Mare, in the hit TV series  Mare of Easttown, which reached its climax this week.

In the actor's own words, she plays a "fully functioning, flawed woman" in a classic "whodunit" story, but in doing so Kate Winslet has accidentally captured our pandemic selves, and much more.

Critics say it's the role of her lifetime.

We see this Oscar-winning movie star curse, not smile, shout at her family, eat steak sandwiches from tin foil wrappers for dinner, forget to eat, crack open a single beer at random hours of the day, get dressed from the clothes she left on the floor from the night before and only put on a lick of mascara when she is going "out, out".

She has neither the energy nor the inclination to people-please, nor to feign a positive mood.

You can see the flesh of her stomach through the old cotton T-shirts she wears and there's a sex scene with a "bulgy bit of belly".

In Mare of Easttown Winslet has not only captured our pandemic selves, but also just ourselves.

There is no green juice for breakfast, no glossy blow-dried hair, no homes that look like The Hamptons, no bodies flexed with muscle or golden from tan.

And when bad things happen, as they continually do to Mare Sheehan, she just keeps going, not mindfully nor with some great Rocky Balboa pomp, more just on learned and necessary autopilot, and she gets the job done.

Unpolished and flawed

It's this unpolished realness that has made so many people, and women in particular, resonate with Winslet's portrayal of a "fully functioning, flawed woman".

Because isn't that how we've all been living for the last 15 months? We functioned, not perfectly, but we really got things done — we survived a pandemic.

Glamour and perfection were useless tools this last year. 

Instead, we lived unfiltered. We wore the same clothes. We asked people how they were. We told people how we really were. We complained. We said when things were hard. And we watched a lot of TV.

In our rush now to get back out there and get back to the way things were with fake tan, and other literal or figurative filters, there are some things worth keeping from the last 15 months.

Maybe that's another reason Winslet's character has resonated so deeply, as we were busy emerging from our lockdown lives and queuing outside Penneys, here was a woman who reminded us of what we had been like for the last 15 months. And we liked her.

In an interview with Maureen Dowd for the New York Times this week, Winslet was as unfiltered in print as she was on screen.

"Ms Winslet said she knows people are saying, 'Oh my God, how can she let herself look so unglamorous?'

Belly bulge

"When Craig Zobel, the director, assured her he would cut 'a bulgy bit of belly' in her sex scene with Guy Pearce, she told him: 'Don’t you dare!'

"She also sent the show’s promo poster back twice because it was too retouched. 'They were like ‘Kate, really, you can’t’, and I’m like ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back',” wrote Ms Dowd in The New York Times.

But aside from sex scenes and promo posters — things the rest of us probably will never relate to  — the actor went on to talk about what being 45, soon to be 46, is actually like.

“Listen, I hope that in playing Mare as a middle-aged woman — I will be 46 in October — I guess that’s why people have connected with this character in the way that they have done because there are clearly no filters.

"She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit," the actor said.

With shows like Love Island, we have become obsessed with virtual reality.
With shows like Love Island, we have become obsessed with virtual reality.

As we hurtle headfirst into a summer of bikinis, fake tan, six packs, and carefully placed camera lenses in the form of Love Island, Mare of Easttown is the perfect reminder of what most humans look like and how a lot of humans live.

Love Island will see another host of young people catapulted to social media fame, if they don't already possess hundreds of thousands of followers — but our obsession with virtual popularity or celebrity and its filtered veneer also got the Winslet treatment.

“I have certainly heard, twice, of certain actors being cast in roles because they have more followers,” she said.

“I’ve actually heard people say, ‘she’s not who we wanted to cast, but she has more followers’. I almost don’t know what to say. It’s so sad and so extraordinarily wrong.

"I think the danger is not just for young actors but younger people in general now. I think it makes you less present in your real life. 

Everyone is constantly taking photographs of their food and photographing themselves with filters.

Having lived without filters these last 15 months, both emotionally and physically, Winslet's unflinching portrayal of a middle-aged woman right as we exit lockdown, seems to have deeply resonated with people.

As we hurtle headfirst back into normal life, do we all want to keep a bit of Mare Sheehan with us?

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