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Mare of Easttown

There was some discussion of this HBO series in comments on this post, in which all agreed that the show is very good and that Kate Winslet's performance is extremely good. When I last commented there I hadn't seen all seven episodes, but I have now, and so can make my concurrence final.

It's a crime drama, and the production as a whole is worthy of comparison to the best contemporary work in that line: Broadchurch, for instance. "Mare" in the title is the name of the principal character. As far as I noticed, the odd name is not explained until well into the series, and then only in passing: it's short for Marianne (Maryanne, Mary Ann...whatever). She's played by Winslet, and is a middle-aged, divorced, working-class woman living in a small Pennsylvania town, where she's a detective on the local police force, like her father before her. 

In addition to being a good and well-told story, the series is a realistic portrait of a failing culture: broken families, drugs, aimless young people, and all that. But there are a fair number of film and television productions that do that well. What really sets this one apart for me is Kate Winslet's performance. She is absolutely convincing, and the fact that she's English makes that astonishing.  The accent is a very impressive part of that effect, but not the whole thing. If I hadn't known otherwise I would have assumed that the actress playing Mare is a native of the area, because she seems so entirely a part of it. 

I don't see all that many movies, and as far as I can remember have not seen Winslet in anything else. I was aware of her as a famous actress, and I knew she was English and had been in Titanic, but that was about all. I figured the person who played the romantic lead in Titanic was probably a glamour girl, possibly not the greatest actress. Well, if she is or was ever a glamour girl, she certainly does not mind stepping into the persona of decidedly un-glamorous women. 

There was a time--and although it was a long time ago I was probably an adult--when I thought the craft of acting was over-rated. I think that was partly an impression from the big movie stars of my childhood and youth, who played pretty much the same character in every film, or at least were always instantly identifiable: as John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and even those of a later generation, like Jack Nicholson. I tended to assume that their one basic character was essentially the person him/herself, and so it seemed that acting was mainly a matter of memorizing one's lines and simulating the emotions of the role, and I thought of the latter as a fairly direct and broad thing. 

Of course "simulating the emotions" of the role is not an easy thing to do, even if you're more or less being yourself. But to become, in some not entirely figurative sense, another person altogether, and to speak and behave, down to the most subtle movements of the face, as that person...well, I can't imagine being able to do it. And as I've increasingly understood that, I've increasingly understood that acting is a very difficult art, and most impressive when, as with any performing art, the difficulty is perfectly masked by skill, so that you aren't conscious that you're watching something difficult. 

Here's the trailer for Mare of Easttown:


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I've seen several of her films. She's very good, but what sticks in my mind is that she gets naked so often in them, so I was very glad to read this: "Kate Winslet said she’s done stripping down for nude scenes":

"Winslet‘s real fear, she explained, is that 'there comes a point where people are going to go, "Oh, here she goes again".'”

More on the making of "Mare of Easttown" in the article:

Heh. I had no idea. She most definitely doesn't get naked in this one, though there is one brief superfluous sex scene. She's definitely on the...uh...plump and not-young side for a sexy movie star.

Oh wait, I see that NYPost article is largely about that scene. Well, good for her for keeping the flaws in.

By the way I met some people from New Zealand this morning. Just briefly--I was walking my neighbor's dog and they wanted to say hello to him. Nice people. They'd been to Florida--Tampa I think--and I have to say I was mildly distressed that my town is apparently a tourist destination.

Speaking of New Zealand, Winslet's very first film was "Heavenly Creatures," which was based on the brutal murder of a mother by her daughter and the daughter's friend that took place in the 1950s in Christchurch. Winslet played the friend. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I remember it as being a very unsettling film.

I heard a discussion of that case on the radio a long time ago. May well have been in the context of the movie, which I see came out in 1994. Pretty sure it's the same case, anyway--same scenario. The discussion alone was unsettling.

One of the girls later became a very prolific mystery novelist.

Allow me to recommend a very good series that I finished last night -- Bodyguard. It's a six-episode political thriller about a policeman, a British army veteran suffering from PTSD (unbeknownst to his superiors) who gets assigned to a position as bodyguard of an unpopular high level British politician. The series was produced by the same people who do the excellent Line of Duty show. It is very well written and acted, notably by Keeley Hawes, who is always good, and Scottish actor Richard Madden, a newcomer to me, who is outstanding in the title role. There are some extremely suspenseful sequences involving a suicide bomber and an assassination attempt, among other things, and it has a couple of really nice twists.

I generally prefer mysteries and procedurals to "thrillers," but this one is very smart and excellently done.

Amazon or Netflix has offered that to me but I haven't tried it. Will do so.

I like Keeley Hawes, but can't recommend another show she's in: Ashes to Ashes. She's a cop who gets shot and wakes up in 1981. It's sort of a sequel to Life On Mars, in which a detective (not the same one) gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. It wasn't that great and Ashes is not as good. Nothing wrong with Keeley Hawes's performance, it's just not that well done, plot and character-wise. There are three seasons and I'm bailing out after the first one.

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