It’s anyone’s guess why British actors are so successful in Hollywood. I suppose if you measure it there are more American actors in the business – obviously – but when we think of important thespians (Olivier, Burton, Leigh, Hopkins, Day Lewis, Dench) we often turn to that little island and with the new generation of actors coming up even though Australia and other parts of Europe have made their indelible stamp on it all, there is still a significant quantity of British talent continuing to impress on the screen. And few are more important than this lovely lady in this wonderful performance.
#10 Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Many single this out as Kate’s best. I wouldn’t go there, but with such an illustrious résumé there are a number of performances you could make the best of argument for. Eternal Sunshine was one of the better films from 2004 featuring a brilliant turn from Jim Carey as Joel Barish; but the performance that stuck with me the most was Winslet’s Clementine. It’s difficult to adequately analyse the merits of Carey and Winslet in this comedy since the film’s nonlinear format asks you to assess their performances in no stratified order, so it’s not until the end we can look back and fill in the blanks. A favourite part of mine occurs towards the beginning of the film – though it’s towards the end in real time – the trip to Montauk. It would probably rank somewhere in top 10 scenes of the decade and though Carey’s boorish discomfort is effective it is Kate – completely – who makes it work. The conversation may sound pointless and meandering to the less attentive but it’s filled with little clues that Gondry is giving us and Winslet sells it completely.
Clementine has a number of hangups, and she knows them. In fact, she reveals a key portion of her character early on. She says it herself actually – I’m a vindictive little bitch, truth be told. It sounds like a throwaway, but it’s not actually. But as moody as she is Clementine is she is also spontaneous, fun and honest. It’s sort of a tug-o-war between the good and the bad and it’s this irrepressibility about her that Joel adores so much and it’s the difficult task Kate is given. It’s an occupational hazard, but I always marvel at Winslet’s ability to do accents. It’s precise without ever sounding pedantic and I credit her Clementine with some of my favourite line readings – You’re freaked out because I was out late without you, and in your wormy little brain…you’re trying to figure out, did she fuck someone tonight? It’s to Kate’s credit that we want to slap and hug Clementine at the same time.
The thing is when an actor becomes renowned they’re often boxed into a particular niche. A free spirit like Clementine doesn’t seem like the “quintessential” Kate performance, but Kate is an actress – above all else – and it’s a credit to her talent that she makes Clementine work. Like my favourite performance of hers – Marianne Dashwood – the performance depends on the candour and sensibility of her character. We don’t often think of Kate like this, but it’s how I often remembered her. Whether with a British accent or an American one I love her playfulness and her honesty. When she says I’m just a fucked up girl looking for her own piece mind we're right there with her. She is isn't she? Her Clementine is real and absolutely perfect - flaws and all. Few do line readings are as well as Kate's and with Gondry’s brilliant script she’s exceptional.
I don’t think anyone will argue against this. It’s one of Kate’s most beloved. It’s not my favourite of hers though. Is it yours?