There was much to love about Mare of Easttown, which ended this week with a devastating and heartbreaking twist (don’t worry, no spoilers here). It was a whodunnit layered with subtle clues, which was both depressing and peppered with moments of surprising joy and tenderness, set in a realistically dreary working class American town.
Kate Winslet was exceptional as the hostile, relentless, vape-sucking, emotionally unavailable (at least at the beginning) lead detective. As always with the characteristically un-showy Winslet, who likes to make a point of not being photoshopped and talks openly about her weight and gross habits (‘I burp, I fart, I’m a real woman,’ she once said), much of the talk was about her appearance, which was decidedly and deliberately drab.
“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,” Winslet told the New York Times. “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 lank roots, washed out skin, wrinkles and shabby clothing were all carefully considered to make Mare seem ‘kind of disgusting’ and ‘a hot mess.’ Though, as with most Hollywood stars who attempt to look ‘normal’, there’s a luminosity which shines through - despite Winslet asking the production team to use lighting ‘to make [her skin] look not nice.’ She also sent back early versions of the promotional poster because it looked too re-touched, “I’m like ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back,’” Winslet has said.
For a sex scene with Guy Pearce (side note: how nice to see a big name male actor playing a low-key supporting role to a woman?) director Craig Zobel offered to edit it to show Winslet in a more flattering way. “Don’t you dare!” was her response, saying she wanted people to see her “bulgy bit of belly.” Of course, her ‘belly bulge’ is most people on their best day after months on the 5:2 diet, the fact she felt she even had to address it shows the ridiculous standards to which Hollywood women are held to.
Winslet’s efforts to make Mare look ‘kind of disgusting’ are noble but how is it that it’s still headline-worthy and ‘brave’ for a middle aged woman to look, well, middle aged? She may not look like the tight-faced, perma-glossy, size eight forty-something we’re used to seeing on screen, but she looks great. An average weight, healthy-looking (vaping and daily Rolling Rock habit aside), make-up free woman who’s unconcerned with fashion.
Still, what Winslet is trying to do is necessary and important. Other actresses in their late forties - like Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie - though all phenomenally talented, are not exactly holding a mirror up to the rest of the middle aged sisterhood. Women of all ages need to see jiggly tummies, faces that move and bodies larger than a size 10. We need to see normal. We need to see untweaked, unedited ageing.
The thing is though, are we having these conversations about male actors? Do we expect Winslet’s pal and peer Leonardo DiCaprio to explain why he’s got a middle-aged paunch? We didn’t flinch when Ryan Gosling played a balding, tubby husband in Blue Valentine and didn’t fawn over Matthew McConaughey for having bloodshot eyes and scraggily hair in True Detective.
Men are allowed to age disgracefully but women are still expected to remain immortalised at 25. Until that changes, expect to see Winslet fighting the good fight for women with belly bulges everywhere.