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Kate Winslet - Biography

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Kate Winslet

Personal details

Name: Kate Winslet
Born: 5 October 1975 (Age: 40)
Where: Reading, England
Height: 5'8"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs and 2 Golden Globes

All about this star


Kate Winslet is one of the UK's finest and most successful young actresses, winning an Oscar and being nominated on five other occasions before the age of 34. Yet she's more than just a celebrity thespian, having for the most part shunned major Hollywood productions in favour of smaller, more interesting, and often British pieces. Having at school weighed 185 pounds and suffered the nickname Blubber, she has also famously decried the pressures put upon young women by society and the film industry in particular.

Kate Elizabeth Winslet was born on October 5th, 1975, in Reading, Berkshire, to father Roger and mother Sally Bridges-Winslet. She has two sisters, Anna and Beth, and a brother named Joss. Acting was in the family. Two of her father's forebears - twins - appeared in vaudeville. Her mother's parents, Oliver and Linda, had run the Reading Repertory Theatre, and her uncle Robert Bridges had appeared in many productions, most notably as Mr Bumble in the original West End version of Oliver! Her father, too, was a thespian by trade (Anna and Beth have also followed this path), performing mostly onstage, but also appearing on a couple of episodes of Casualty, a show that provided one of Kate's earliest appearances.

Like most actors, Roger would often have trouble finding work, and in-between jobs would find employment as a postman, laying tarmac and with the National Trust. His efforts ensured there were never any real money problems, extra cash being brought in by Sally, a qualified nanny. Her profession meant that the Winslet home was often filled with other people's children. Kate would later say that the atmosphere was, if not hippy-like, then certainly bohemian, with an ongoing "sense of holiday".

This atmosphere changed somewhat when, with Kate just past her 10th birthday, Roger suffered a bad accident while on the water. Attempting to steer a large canal boat through a lock in France, his foot was caught in a whipping coil of rope and nearly severed. It was only the speed of the helicopter ambulance and the skill of the micro-surgeons that kept it attached. Kate and the others were told that, after a year of rehabilitation, her father would be back to normal, playing with them as usual. The fact that he was not and never would be, she said later, would cause a lingering feeling of bitterness and betrayal.

This did not prevent Kate from wholeheartedly pursuing her career - and even at this tender age, she did already consider acting to be her career, seizing stage parts wherever she could. As a child she'd wept when she won the part of Mary in the school nativity play "because it was so important to me". She'd gone on to appear as a scene-stealingly loud Cornish fairy godmother, a flamboyantly menacing dragon, and as Lena Marelli in a production of Bugsy Malone (the part Bonnie Langford played in the movie). She'd appear in other musicals, with her sister Anna, often not getting home till 11. And there'd even been a TV debut when she'd advertised Sugar Puffs by dancing alongside the Honey Monster.

With her heart set on an acting career, the precocious, focused and absurdly mature Kate was not to be denied. Stage school was what she wanted so, when her father expressed reservations while on family holiday on a Norfolk beach, she pinned him to the sand (with her not inconsiderable bulk) until he let her have her way. So it was that, at age 11, she auditioned for and was enrolled at Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead. Here she would appear onstage in a host of productions, including Peter Pan and Adrian Mole, but she found it a strange and difficult place. She's described it as "very competitive, very unreal" and her background made her an outsider, with many of her classmates hailing from rich families and often popping off for a few weeks in Barbados. Her weight set her further apart. This was where she earned the nickname Blubber and found herself mercilessly teased and occasionally locked in the art-room cupboard.

Kate was only 13 when she began work proper, appearing in episodes of Shrinks and Casualty. She's said that this and the limitations of a theatre school caused her miss out on much of her education. Nevertheless she emerged in 1991 with 8 GCSEs.

Quickly, the TV parts came, her first major role being in 1991 as the flame-haired renegade Reet in Dark Season. This was a strange kids' adventure of six episodes, split into two three-parters. In it, a small gang of youths feel something is amiss when everyone at their school is given a mega-powerful computer and the class swot is turned into a mutant. Discovering that the sinister Mr Eldritch is plotting to take over the planet by controlling the minds of anyone using the computers, they battle to foil him in the peskiest way possible. Then, having out-done him once, a mighty WW2 computer (co-incidental, that, given Kate would later star in Enigma), named Behemoth, is dug up in the school grounds and they must fight Eldritch all over again.

The programme, with its oddly adult subject matter of mind control, neo-Nazism and pre-millennial angst (it was written by Russell T Davies, who'd later find fame with Queer As Folk), was well-received and extremely contemporary. It also introduced Kate to fellow actor Stephen Tredre, at 27 some 12 years her senior. It says something for Kate's maturity and forcefulness that the pair would date for the best part of 5 years - and her parents wouldn't complain.

Kate's next outing, Anglo Saxon Attitudes, was another ambitiously classy project (as most of her projects have been). Indeed, it was only made after Andrew Davies, who adapted it from Angus Wilson's novel, began a public argument with ITV over the quality of their programming. The three-part miniseries saw Gerald Middleton as a renowned historian who finds his status threatened when an archaeological discovery 30 years previously is discovered to be a hoax. Tara Fitzgerald and Dorothy Tutin would also feature, Kate appearing in two episodes as a sculptress's daughter.

Davies's argument would be wholly justified when Anglo Saxon Attitudes won Best Drama Serial at the BAFTAs. Kate, too, would take something important from the experience. Noticing that the actress playing her mother was, to be kind, a little on the large side, she realised that she had been cast, at least in part, for her size. In short, they had needed a Blubber. Clearly, as she was keenly searching for lead roles, this would not do. Engaging the help of her real mother, a Weight Watchers veteran, she fought the flab and lost three stone inside 12 months.

Meanwhile, she moved on to the comedy series Get Back, created by Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, who'd earlier presented grateful TV licence-payers with Birds Of A Feather. This saw Ray Winstone as a left-winger and failed boutique owner, forced by circumstance to move with his family into his dad's shabby Finsbury Park council house. Now he must struggle back onto his feet, all the while suffering the jibes of his brother who's successfully played the burgeoning Eighties money markets and is, naturally, an arch-conservative. As did the series, every episode would take its title from a Beatles song. So would Kate, as Eleanor (Rigby), Winstone's daughter, a girl troubled by the family's fall from grace but still cheered by her father's tiny victories.

Working in a deli to support herself, Kate now received the call that would change her life. Indeed, she claims she was in the middle of making a ham sandwich when called to the phone. On the line was her agent, calling her "You clever girl" and informing her that, out of 175 hopefuls, she'd scored one of the leads in Heavenly Creatures, splatter-director Peter Jackson's first foray into "serious" cinema (Jackson, of course, would go on to hit record-breaking paydirt with The Lord Of The Rings). So, off she went to New Zealand, for this real-life tale of a 1952 murder.

A brilliant combination of bleak reality and sweet fantasy, Heavenly Creatures told the story of a couple of teens at a Christchurch girls' college who are drawn together by their shared alienation. Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) thinks Juliet (Kate) is clever and sophisticated, Juliet thinks Pauline is tough and real. Together they worship Mario Lanza and Orson Welles and build their own little world, a world that grows even more insular when Juliet is confined due to a bout of TB and the pair share their feelings by letter. Closer and closer they get, until the adult world, silently fearing the love that dare not speak its name, fatally attempts to separate them.

The film was a major critical success and saw Jackson nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (he'd lose to Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction). Kate, too, won her fair share of plaudits for an excellent performance as Juliet Hulme, playing the girl as bright, imaginative and constantly on the edge of hysteria. Interestingly, the real-life Hulme (having changed her name to Anne Perry) became a famous writer of murder mysteries. One of her Inspector Pitt stories was filmed as The Cater St Hangman, which featured an appearance by Kate's sister, Anna.

There'd be more praise for Kate as she continued her stage career. Having earlier appeared as Sarah in A Game Of Soldiers, her efforts as Geraldine in What The Butler Saw saw her nominated as Best Supporting Actress of 1994 by the Manchester Evening News, her first official accolade.

Onscreen, Heavenly Creatures began a series of six consecutive period dramas. Next, she appeared in the comedy fantasy A Kid In King Arthur's Court where Merlin, attempting to summon a worthy knight to save the nation from ruin, accidentally plucks a wise-ass child from a Little League game. Touching down in mediaeval Britain, the kid discovers Joss Ackland's King Arthur has lost the faith of his people, the Round Table has been broken up, and an evil Art Malick is trying to take control, most pointedly by bullying his way into marriage with the fair Princess Sarah (Kate).

It was enjoyable if flimsy stuff, a pleasant breather before a run of heavy-duty literary adaptations. The first of these was Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee and scripted by Emma Thompson. Here Gemma Jones's Mrs Dashwood is widowed and, severely out of pocket, must marry off her three daughters as quickly as possible, knowing the impecunious girls will struggle to find suitable suitors. Though Kate was originally called to audition for the minor part of Lucy, she ambitiously went for and won the role of Marianne Dashwood - flighty, excitable and romantic - who wins the heart of Alan Rickman's staid Colonel Brandon but gets swept up by Greg Wise's Willoughby, a relentless charmer with a dark secret. Will her reputation be destroyed by this ineffable cad, or will she find the true love she seeks?

It was a bright production of high comedy and quality and won a raft of Oscar nominations, including one for Kate as Best Supporting Actress (she was out-done by Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite). It was a tempestuous time in her life, as she'd just split from Stephen Tredre (she actually stayed for a while with Thompson). She then stepped forward a century from Sense And Sensibility to star in Jude, Michael Winterbottom's take on Thomas Hardy's final novel, the mercilessly depressing Jude The Obscure. Here Christopher Eccleston played the titular Jude, a stonemason who dreams of an academic career but is conned into marriage by a mean-spirited Rachel Griffiths. Breaking away from this unhappy coupling, he meets and falls for his cousin, Sue Bridehead (Kate) and they live and breed in sin, shunned by society and entering a downward spiral leading to one of literature's most horrible conclusions.

It could have been unbearable to watch, a soul-destroying grind. But Eccleston's heroic stoicism and, above all, Kate's sassy defiance as society gradually crushes them made the movie worthwhile. It was painful and grim, sure, but also enlightening and weirdly enlivening. Mostly with their faces - and Kate does have the most expressive face - they told a tale that could not fail to touch the heart and raise the blood in anger. It was a period drama that could never be accused of being soppy or slight.

Jude was a fine piece but overshadowed by Kate's other release of 1996, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. Two years previously, Kate had auditioned for the female lead in Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a part won by Helena Bonham Carter. Branagh remembered her performance and now cast her - no further readings necessary - as his Ophelia. Having won over Emma Thompson, she'd now impressed the other half of the recently separated king and queen of British theatre. It wasn't all plain sailing though. She was turned down for the role of Abigail in The Crucible - that was grabbed by Winona Ryder. And, despite testing for the part, she was already considered too old to play alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo & Juliet.

Branagh's Hamlet was the first full-length film version of the play and, at 238 minutes, the second longest major Hollywood production. And it was another critical triumph for Kate, who played Ophelia as heartbroken and touchingly vulnerable, snuffling and suffering as Branagh torments her, eventually driving her into a padded cell. The movie also saw her line up for the first time beside Judi Dench and she'd have a fling with one of the other stars, Rufus Sewell.

It was on the day she filmed the scene where Ophelia finally slips into madness that she received a call that would be enough to send anyone crazy - with delight. After months of badgering, pestering and auditioning, she had won the romantic lead in James Cameron's Titanic, at that point the most expensive film ever to be made, Gwyneth Paltrow having turned it down. At last appearing alongside DiCaprio, she was Rose De Witt Bukater, engaged to the cruel and haughty Billy Zane, but destined to find an all-too-brief passion with DiCaprio, a street urchin residing several decks down.

With special effects as vast, impressive and potentially overwhelming as Titanic's, it was vital that the central love story suffuse the film with humanity, and Winslet went at it the right way. Allowed by Cameron to ad-lib, she delivered some of the movie's more poignant moment, choosing to spit in Zane's face rather than prick him with a hair-pin, and recalling the place where she and her lover met just as it's about to sink into the icy depths.

With a second Oscar nomination, Blubber, with her size 10 feet, was the most sought-after actress in Hollywood. Yet, eschewing the big bucks in favour of learning experiences, she went her own maverick way. Turning down the roles taken by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love and Jodie Foster in Anna And The King - not wishing to be typecast in period pieces - she chose instead to seek out smaller, more interesting productions and signed on for Hideous Kinky. Based on an autobiographical novel by Lucien Freud's daughter Emma (a book given to Kate by Stephen Tredre back when she was 17), the movie was funded by a lottery grant and was light years away from the blockbusting excess of Titanic. Here she played an itinerant single mother, trolling around 1972 Morocco, seeking Sufi enlightenment with two daughters who'd much rather be living a normal life back in Blighty. It was another fine performance, but the movie itself failed to move and bombed.

Kate came out of it well, though, having fallen for 3rd Assistant Director Jim Threapleton (look closely and you'll see them in a scene together). They'd marry soon afterwards and bear a daughter, Mia (born October 12th, 2000), but this, sadly, did not hold them together. They'd divorce in December, 2001, with Threapleton's "unreasonable behaviour" being cited as the reason. Kate kept tight-lipped about the experience, despite the media furore, but many felt Threapleton's "unreasonable behaviour" was simply an excuse to ease the divorce through the English courts. The couple had simply drifted apart. But he freely admitted that he hadn't been happy with life with a film star, and even said he saw more of Mia after the divorce.

Many were surprised that the now world famous Winslet had chosen Hideous Kinky as her Titanic follow-up. They'd have been shocked had they known about the film she shot immediately after that film's completion. Written and directed by Max Newsom, and called Plunge, this was being cobbled together for just '30,000 and concerned four Bristol dropouts who are inspired to improve themselves (and their sex lives) by taking up surfing. Arriving in autumnal Cornwall, they find no fun nor frolics - till they spy sweeper-girl Kate dancing on the roofs of some beach huts.

What happened was this. Winslet was in an emotional turmoil. She'd fallen for Threapleton, Titanic was exploding and Stephen Tredre, still a close friend, had died from bone cancer (she actually missed Titanic's UK premiere to attend his funeral). Needing a break from the craziness and knowing a friend was appearing in Plunge, she asked if she might pop down to Cornwall for the day, a day she spent happily making tea and taking out the bins. Two days later, she called Newsom to ask if he might find a part for her - for no money, naturally. Well, what do you say when an Oscar nominee and Hollywood's newest star asks to be in your '30,000 production for nothing? She was in. Unfortunately, this considerably upped the ante for Newsom and his producers, and the movie would not even be previewed till June, 2002.

Winslet continued to steer clear of Hollywood with Jane Campion's Holy Smoke. Here she was a young Australian who takes off for India and takes up with a guru. Her parents, believing her to have been brainwashed, trick her into returning, then unleash upon her hard-nosed de-programmer Harvey Keitel. However, despite his best efforts to break her, her strength and conviction see him overpowered mentally, physically and sexually. It was an idiosyncratic effort, and not really successful, but it was easy to see why Campion had chosen Winslet as her latest feminist heroine. She exuded confidence, pragmatism and charisma.

Her next movie was different again and began another run of period dramas. In Quills, Geoffrey Rush played the Marquis De Sade, jailed for his indulgences but still trying to send his ideas out into the world. Kate played Madeleine Le Clerc, the jolly and buxom laundry maid who enjoys his attentions, smuggles his writings out of the prison and, at one point, is soundly whipped (by way of punishment, you understand, not for pervy thrills).

Having attempted and failed to produce and star in an adaptation of Therese Raquin (which would have marked her debut as a femme fatale), she moved on to Enigma, a British WW2 drama produced by Mick Jagger and Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels. Based on Robert Harris's novel, this told the story of the team at Bletchley Park who broke the Nazis' Enigma code after an Enigma machine was captured by HMS Bulldog (and not a US submarine, as the movie U-571 might have led you to believe). Dougray Scott played a mathematical genius who's returned from a nervous breakdown to discover that his lover and colleague Saffron Burrows may have been passing messages to the Germans and has now disappeared. So, under suspicion himself, he teams up with Burrows' former room-mate (an appropriately plucky Kate) and attempts to discover the truth.

Winslet drew much praise for her efforts, particularly as she had allowed herself to appear dowdy. When interviewed, her looks were always on the agenda, as they had been since Titanic when her nude scenes with DiCaprio made her a favourite with women tired of being constantly force-fed images of stick-thin models. Winslet declared herself happy with her fuller figure and sympathised with those made to feel fat. She had in fact been through it herself. When doing press for Heavenly Creatures in America, she had convinced herself that the US industry would only grant her entry if she were skinny. Consequently, she existed on an apple a day, dropping to 7 stone 10, and only stopping her absurd diet when she began to pass out regularly. Come 2003, though she was now content to appear glamorous for the cameras, she still berated GQ Magazine for touching up and stretching a cover shot that had her looking far thinner than she really was.

As well as Enigma, 2001 saw her appearing in another British drama, Iris. Based on the biographical writings of John Bayley, this covered the life of his long-time partner, the novelist Iris Murdoch. Kate would play the young Murdoch, a highly intelligent, fiercely spirited college star on a voyage of sexual and self-discovery. Judi Dench would play the older Iris, racked by Alzheimer's and fighting for her mind. Both she and Kate would be Oscar-nominated for performances that somehow made these very different actresses seem like the same person. It was only the second time that two actresses had both been nominated when playing the same character in the same movie. The first was Titanic - Gloria Stuart and . . . Kate Winslet.

With her divorce coming through in December, 2001, Kate began a relationship with the famed theatre director Sam Mendes, whose American Beauty had swept the Oscars for 1999. They'd met when Mendes was casting for his final season at the Donmar Warehouse, but Kate had decided that performing Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night for three months in London and another three in New York was too much. Nothing had started then, but both of them independently sounded out Richard Eyre, another renowned theatre director and Kate's director for Iris, as to the other's character and availability. Soon they would be dating and, after a secret wedding in the West Indies in May, 2003, she'd give birth to son Joe Alfie in December that same year.

2003 also saw her first genuine Hollywood movie in The Life Of David Gale (Titanic having been shot in Mexico), actually filmed in 2001. Directed by Alan Parker, this saw Kevin Spacey (who'd earlier won a Best Actor Oscar for his part in Mendes' American Beauty) as an anti-capital punishment activist who finds himself on Death Row in Texas for the rape and murder of fellow activist Laura Linney. Kate would play a Pulitzer Prize-chasing journalist who interviews him, comes to believe in his innocence and attempts to investigate the crime, all the while being tailed by sinister forces.

The movie received some violently critical reviews. Though the acting was praised, the plot was rubbished and it was even claimed that the film was inadvertently supporting the death penalty. Hardly the idea at all. Undeterred, Winslet stuck with Hollywood for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, written by Charlie Kaufman, the mastermind behind Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. This placed her beside Jim Carrey, a daunting prospect at the best of times, but worse for Kate as, with Carrey playing it straight, she was expected to inject the humour. Playing the free-spirited and impulsive Clementine Kruszynski, she finishes a relationship with Carrey and decides to wipe all memory of him from her mind via Dr Tom Wilkinson's revolutionary new process. Realising what she's done, Carrey undergoes the same, but changes his mind halfway through and, in the hope of rekindling their love, clings desperately to his dissolving memories. The role would see Winslet Oscar-nominated for the fourth time.

Winslet would follow this with another challenge, Romance And Cigarettes, written and directed by John Turturro and featuring other such mavericks as Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken. A kind of cross between The Honeymooners and Pennies From Heaven, and set in Bensonhurst, New York, this would see James Gandolfini as a two-timing husband forced to choose between wife Susan Sarandon and glamorous hussy Kate, neither of whom will tolerate the ongoing status quo. A musical oddity, the movie would see its stars lip-synching to tracks by such diverse artists as Irving Berlin, Connie Francis, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave, with Winslet stealing the show when garbed in a vampy dress and gyrating with sexy firemen to Elvis Presley's Trouble. Trashy, red-haired and foul-mouthed, she was something of a revelation and continued to surprise and shock her public when appearing in an episode of the comedy show Extras, giving phone sex advice and claiming she had taken a part in a Holocaust movie simply because it gave her a better shot at an Oscar (comically, the role in Extras would actually see her nominated for an Emmy). Dropping out of Woody Allen's Match Point to look after her children, Winslet was keeping her parts short and sweet, her only other appearance of 2005 being in ads for American Express.

Naturally, Kate would bounce immediately back to the classics, joining the cast of All The King's Men. The novel by Robert Penn Warren had already been adapted into a movie in 1949 and won the Best Picture Oscar, as well as gongs for Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. Now Sean Penn took over as Willie Stark, the southern poor boy who rises to political prominence via all manner of shady dealings, Jude Law playing a journalist following Penn's career and losing his innocence along the way. Winslet would appear as Anne Stanton, the catalyst for much of the action, her young love affair with Law setting his standards of goodness. She's also the daughter of the state governor, her relationship with Penn leading to disaster.

Also in 2006 would come Little Children, based on Tom Perrotta's novel of suburban sex and prejudice. Here Winslet would play a young mum in a sexless marriage, absent-minded and disaffected, who regards fellow mums like the apparently perfect Jennifer Connelly with shame and distaste. As her husband becomes obsessed with Internet porn, she begins an affair with Patrick Wilson, a hunky house-dad desired by all the neighbourhood's females. As the affair heats up, so jealousy is inflamed and, with a known paedophile moving into the area, matters come to a painful head. It was hard-hitting stuff, and would win Winslet yet another Oscar nomination, making her the youngest actress ever to be nominated five times.

After lending her voice to the animation Flushed Away, written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, where an upmarket rat is lost in the sewers of London, Winslet would move on to The Holiday, Nancy Meyers' follow-up to the sickeningly sentimental Something's Gotta Give. Here Winslet would play a Brit journalist singleton, getting severely messed about by Rufus Sewell's caddish writer. Finally cracking, she goes on the 'Net and arranges a holiday house-swap with Cameron Diaz, a pushy and independent film trailer-maker in Los Angeles. So Diaz arrives at Winslet's fairy-tale country cottage and falls for Winslet's brother, Jude Law, while Winslet enjoys the luxury of Diaz's modernist mansion, befriending neighbour Eli Wallach, a screenwriter from cinema's Golden Age, and beginning a cute relationship with musician Jack Black. It was mildly entertaining stuff, marred by plot errors and Meyers' slushy sensibilities, and Winslet would make a reasonable fist of adding genuine emotion to proceedings, despite being forced to bop senselessly about to pop music, something of a humiliation for an actress of her standing. Aside from this, she'd also appear on the CD book Dog Train, duetting with Weird Al Yankovic on the song I Need A Nap, then lend her voice as narrator on Le Renard Et L'Enfant, a gentle adventure from Luc Jacquet, director of the surprise hit March Of the Penguins. Kids' stuff would feature heavily in her life now as she dedicated much of her time to her children, taking a year off between 2006 and 2007 while husband Mendes was directing Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy in a New York production of The Vertical Hour.

Winslet would then herself be directed by Mendes in Revolutionary Road, based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel and reuniting her with her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. Yates' notion was that the bright American future envisioned back in 1776 had come to a dead halt amidst the suburban normality of the 1950s, and so Winslet and DiCaprio would play a young couple with two kids, seeking fulfilment in mid-Fifties Connecticut. She's dreaming of a stage career and a move to Paris, and feels he's bought into the capitalist delusion and a life of cheap sophistication. For his part, he's bored in his job and trapped by his responsibilities, the pair of them suffering alienation and insecurity in their apparently ideal home. Emotion runs high as these complex characters seek the freedoms demanded by their forefathers. Winslet's performance would see her win a Golden Globe and be nominated for a BAFTA.

Winslet's next feature would be another fraught and award-winning drama, The Reader. Directed by Stephen Daldry and based on Bernhard Schlink's 1995 bestseller, with a screenplay by David Hare, this was an initially troubled production, marked by the departure of producer Scott Rudin (who'd worked with Winslet on Iris and Revolutionary Road). The story would begin in the 1950s when a 15-year-old boy starts an affair with 36-year-old tram conductor Winslet, who demands that he read to her (the German title Der Vorleser refers to one who reads aloud), physically and verbally abuses him, then disappears. Years later he's a student observing a war crimes trial where he sees her accused of being a death camp guard and taking full responsibility for one particular outrage, despite evidence to the contrary. The movie would contemplate personal and international horrors, and explore the split between the young and the old in their understanding of the Holocaust, both in Germany and elsewhere. It was powerful stuff, demanding Winslet's very best efforts, and she'd duly win her first Oscar, also winning a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. At the Golden Globes, winning for both the Reader and Revolutionary Road, this open-hearted actress would match Sally Field and Gwyneth Paltrow in her embarrassing gushing. In her defence, these victories had been a lot time coming.

Winslet has also won a Grammy, in 2000, for Best Spoken Word Album For Children. Oh, and she became a pop star. Having sung the track What If? for an animated version of A Christmas Carol, she was surprised to see it released as a single at Christmas, 2001. It entered the UK Top 10 and was even more of a hit elsewhere, topping the Irish charts for a month and, weirdly, also going to Number One in the Flemish charts of Belgium. And she was honoured by her home town. When Reading council opened a new complex of flats intended for the homeless, they named it after their biggest star (yes, even bigger than her husband Mendes) - Winslet Place.

Almost wholly unassuming, and famously unaffected by her success, Kate Winslet took all these accolades with the tiniest pinch of salt.

Dominic Wills

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