Kate Winslet's more risqué roles
QUILLS, which you can watch Wednesday at 8P, got us thinking about Kate Winslet’s boobs. Hear us out. As an actor, Winslet seems impressively un-vain and unself-conscious about her body. Now you might say, “Not too difficult a feat when you’re as beautiful as she is!” True…but then again, it’s not like she measures up to Hollywood’s super skinny, zero-fat, perfectly toned, silicone ideal. In fact, she often calls out the media for trying to cram her into that impossible mold: in 2003 she reprimanded British GQ for the hack job they did on her legs for a cover story, saying “The retouching is excessive… I do not look like that and, more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that.” Similarly, she’s unafraid to take on roles that cast her in fairly unflattering lights, at least by today’s cultural standards: think body hair, aging, questionable morality, and really inappropriate sex. And while she’s often exposed physically, the nudity isn’t gratuitous, it’s part of the story, exposing emotion and tension at the same time — because with Winslet’s characters, nudity is inextricably bound to both the power and vulnerability of complicated sexuality. And that’s why all her sex scenes and on-screen sexual relationships feel so authentic. Just take a look at some of her most sexually provocative roles — you’ll see more than bare skin:
This 1994 New Zealand film directed by Peter Jackson (pre-LORD OF THE RINGS fame) was Kate Winslet’s first. Based on the true story of two teenage girls who brutally murdered one of their mothers together in 1954, the movie follows their intense year-long relationship — a relationship that tries to walk the tightrope between love and obsession, sensuality and sexuality, passion and violence…often in big, white, 1950s underwear. Even at the very start of her career, Winslet had a freedom with her “instrument” that would become one of her signature acting traits, as you can see in this collection of clips from the film:
Very few actors could make a story about an illicit affair so convincingly depressing and mundane, and yet still so moving and meaningful (although the side story about the local pedophile who ends up castrating himself on the playground swing set dampens the mood). Still, the sex between Winslet, a reluctant suburban housewife and mom with a porn-obsessed husband, and her “misteress,” a reluctant stay-at-home dad played by a buff Patrick Wilson, is hot and awkward and intimate and cringe-worthy. Plus, you’ve got to love a movie that allows a female character with untweezed eyebrows wearing overalls to be the object of someone’s lust!
An adult woman has an ongoing sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old boy — and that isn’t even the scandal in this movie! No, it’s that she was a Nazi guard who had to pick ten women a month to be gassed. Or it’s that she gets herself an extended prison sentence because she won’t admit she can’t read (a fact that would exonerate her from much blame). Or maybe it’s that a day before her release from prison she kills herself! All of this makes the cold and clinical love scenes — which could be labeled ‘slightly pedophiliac’ — feel weirdly tender. There’s just something about lying around naked with your lover, post-sex, having him read to you (even if you are old enough to be his mother). Winslet’s performance in this one earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.
QUILLS re-imagines the last years of the Marquis de Sade’s life while incarcerated in a French insane asylum during the Reign of Terror. Refusing to be silenced, Sade (played by Geoffrey Rush) publishes his scandalous books with the help of the asylum’s laundress Madeleine (Winslet) who smuggles out the manuscripts from the looney bin to his printer (she could hide them in her period cleavage, it’s that impressive). The ying to Sade’s yang is the morally righteous (read: celibate) Abbe (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a man of God who oversees the asylum. Stuck in the middle is the feisty laundress — romantically wise, sexually inexperienced. As a period piece, QUILLS is much more interested in big themes (censorship, repressed desires) than historical accuracy (indeed, Winslet has more realistic eyebrows in LITTLE CHILDREN and THE READER than she does here in the 18th-century). But if facts had gotten in the way, then there couldn’t be a climactic dream-sequence sex scene between the Abbe and the dearly departed Madeleine. Yes, Winslet is one of the few actors who can make necrophilia seem sexy.
This recent HBO miniseries got a lot of attention for the merkin that Evan Rachel Wood wore. But what really stood out — at least for us — was the miraculous cunnilingus scene between Winslet and Guy Pierce — miraculous not because oral sex doesn’t happen all the time in reality, but because oral sex doesn’t often happen in the movies. The scene even included the natural, human laughter that often precedes real-life getting it on. Again, Winslet nailed it. (Sorry, bad pun.) She won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or Movie that year.
This 1996 movie falls into the Reclining Nude category of Winslet films: think TITANIC, HIDEOUS KINKY, and most of the above films which feature her lolling about naked and unashamed. But JUDE takes the cake above all others for its one prolonged, almost aerial shot of Winslet totally naked — we’re talking full frontal with appropriate turn-of-the-last-century bush (although, the sides seemed anachronistically tidy) — lying on a bed, waiting for her lover to undress. We’re reminded of that overhead shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal at the end of SECRETARY, but that scene can’t hold a candle to JUDE’s in terms of authenticity and believability. Winslet captures pre-sex jitters perfectly with her nervous banter — as a viewer, you’re nervous for her.
QUILLS is part of Sundance Channel’s OFFICIAL SELECTION, a series of contemporary hits and timeless masterpieces. Watch a different award winning film from festivals around the globe every Wednesday at 8P.