Kate Winslet in ‘Labor Day’/Image © Paramount
Although Kate Winslet calls her children "absolutely my everything," the mothers she brings to life onscreen often struggle to put family first. Since her film debut as a teen bludgeoning a friend’s mother in 1994’s "Heavenly Creatures," Winslet has shaped her career around complicated women, many of them with children. Her brave portrayals reveal women whose ambitions and insecurities land them in morally ambiguous territory, caught between what they want, what their children need, and what society expects.
"They’re in situations that they are trying to basically find their way out of -- and find themselves at the same time," she’s said. The thirty-eight-year-old has mastered this type of character, most recently earning a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in "Labor Day," adapted from the novel by Joyce Maynard. In it, Winslet plays Adele, a depressed single mother who forms an unlikely family with Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict. The Jason Reitman film opened in Los Angeles last month and goes into wide release January 31.
Some reviews liken the set-up to a Lifetime romance but nonetheless praise Brolin and Winslet. "The emotional and sexual interplay between Adele and Frank captures the idea of need with a sensitivity and insight that is rare on screen," the Los Angeles Times wrote.
A native of England, Winslet shrugs about her own nontraditional family, having three children by three husbands: "I can’t believe that life dealt me those cards, but life just did, you know?" she’s said. Indeed, she notices parallels between her own complexities and the emotional depth of her characters. "If I’ve ever been in a situation in my own life that hasn’t been going the way that I had thought it would, I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk away without giving a fight, you know?" she told The Hollywood Reporter. "And so that, I suppose, is what I have done in my own life, and, as a consequence, I’ve ended up playing characters who, in tandem with those periods in my own life, subconsciously, were in something that they were trying to get away from."
Winslet appears later this year in "Divergent" as Jeanine Matthews, a sort of warped maternal figure whose aptitude test divides youths into factions in a dystopian future. "The future belongs to those who know where they belong," she says in the film, based on Veronica Roth’s best-seller.
Here’s a look at her other maternal roles. Some spoilers follow.
Winslet’s independent Sue Bridehead refuses to legalize her relationship with her cousin, Jude Fawley (Christopher Eccleston), even as they and their children face homelessness because of their lifestyle in this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. In typical Hardy fashion, tragedy ensues.
"Hideous Kinky" (1998)
On the heels of international fame from "Titanic," Winslet starred in this "modest yet affecting" film based on Esther Freud’s novel about a free spirit who uproots her young daughters to Morocco. "The sturdy and unfettered Winslet, unglamorous yet radiant in flower-child mode, scores as the young mother whose motivations are sincere but who’s often oblivious to what’s really going on with the locals and her offspring," Variety said.
"Finding Neverland" (2004)
Critics called Winslet "a radiant force of nature" and "direct, grounded, and heartfelt" as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the widowed mother of four boys who inspire playwright J.M. Barrie to create Peter Pan. Based on Allan Knee’s play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," the film shows the ailing Davies and Barrie (Johnny Depp) in a platonic but poignant friendship.
"Little Children" (2006)
Winslet received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as Sarah Pierce, a former literature student and stay-at-home Massachusetts mom who embarks on an affair with a stay-at-home dad (Patrick Wilson). Director Todd Field co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Perrotta, based on Perrotta’s novel. Sarah defends the adulterous Emma Bovary in her book club, failing to realize she’s become like Emma: "It’s not the cheating. It’s the hunger. The hunger for an alternative, and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness."
"Revolutionary Road" (2008)
The same year that Winslet won a Best Actress Oscar and a Golden Globe for Supporting Actress in "The Reader," she scored a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a drama in the film "Revolutionary Road." Based on Richard Yates’ novel, the movie reunited her with "Titanic" co-star Leonardo DiCaprio to portray a marriage filled with "a hundred different types of loathing." Directed by Winslet’s then-husband Sam Mendes, the story follows Frank and April Wheeler, aimless 1950s suburban parents whose pie-in-the-sky dream of moving to Paris gets shelved when he’s promoted and she again becomes pregnant. "I saw a whole other future," April says. "I can’t stop seeing it."
Roman Polanski directed this adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play "The God of Carnage," a dark comedy that watches two sets of affluent parents degenerate into childish behavior after they meet to discuss a fight between their young sons. Critics thought the play worked better on stage but enjoyed the sharp wordplay among the couples: Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly versus Winslet and Christoph Waltz. "We come over here to work things out with them and they, they insult us, they browbeat us, they lecture us about being good citizens of the world!" Winslet’s Nancy says. "I am glad our son kicked the [expletive] out of your son and I wipe my ass with your human rights!"
"Mildred Pierce" (2011)
Winslet won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a television miniseries and a Primetime Emmy as the overprotective, self-sacrificing mother who yearns for her daughter’s love and respect during the Great Depression. Todd Haynes directed the five-part saga that aired on HBO, based on James M. Cain’s novel. Evan Rachel Wood co-stars as Veda, Mildred’s spoiled, narcissistic daughter.