CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Kate Winslet as a gun-toting drunk granny? Titanic it ain’t!
Mare of Easttown
Sky Atlantic, last night
Kate Winslet is playing a grandmother. That could make anyone feel old … as though you don’t just remember the movie Titanic, but you were actually on the ship.
There’s a total absence of glamour to the 45-year-old’s starring role in Mare Of Easttown. She chugs on a nicotine vaper, she necks beer from a fridge crammed with bottles.
As a weary, embittered detective in a working-class Pennsylvania town, searching for the missing daughter of an old schoolfriend, she wears no make-up. She sleeps in her shirt – a cotton felt rag with a faded plaid pattern – and doesn’t bother changing it.
Kate Winslet (pictured in a scene from Mare of Easttown) is playing a grandmother. That could make anyone feel old … as though you don’t just remember the movie Titanic, but you were actually on the ship
And when she meets a man in a bar, she stops drinking whisky and beer chasers just long enough to have sex on his sofa, before warning him not to bother calling her again.
If you still have fond memories of Kate’s youthful period dramas, when she made her name as a teenager in adaptations of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, you might not like her as a police officer.
We’re not meant to like Mare (pronounced like the horse). She doesn’t like herself – she’s racked with guilt over her troubled son, Kevin, whom she sees only in visions when she’s half asleep. And she rows constantly with her precocious daughter, still at school and embroiled in a lesbian relationship.
Everyone starts their love affairs young in Easttown. Mare was married at 20, though she’s long since divorced. Her ex, Frank, has just got engaged again.
Frank did well to find someone in Easttown who wasn’t a blood relative, because the family web is tangled. Mare lives with her daughter, her own mother and her hyperactive four-year-old grandson, Drew. Her cousin, the local vicar, seems to have taken up residence in her kitchen too.
If that sounds complicated, it gets worse when she goes to work. All of Easttown knows Mare, a basketball star in her teens. She still sees most of her team-mates.
Richard (pictured) is played by former Neighbours star Guy Pearce, who was also Winslet’s co-star in the last major piece of television she filmed, the remake of film noir Mildred Pierce, ten years ago
Best friend Beth (Chinasa Ogbuagu) needs her to find and arrest her junkie brother, after he burgled her home.
Their estranged friend Dawn is furious with detective Mare because the police seem to have given up on finding her vanished daughter Katie.
It’s a complex story of criss-crossing relationships and resentments that go back decades – a smalltown soap opera disguised as a crime drama.
The local teenagers hang out by the river at night, like a collection of outcasts from a Bruce Springsteen album. Their parents are abusing prescription drugs, and everyone consumes alcohol like it’s their staple source of calories.
Since no one cooks, unless it is to heat a plastic tray of cheese gloop in the microwave, beer is probably the closest Easttown gets to health food.
Writer Brad Ingelsby has imagined Mare’s sprawling, messy life in detail. His mistake is to try to explain it all to us in a rush, like an overeager in-law doing the introductions at a wedding reception: ‘Have you met Lori? You’ll be seeing a lot more of her… and this is Father Dan, he likes a drink, don’t you Dan? Oh, but you’ve got to say a quick hello to Freddie…’
All this could have been doled out across the seven episodes of the series, not dumped on us in an avalanche of backstories. It’s often more interesting to wonder how characters are connected, than to have all the information at once and be expected to remember it.
Instead, we zigzagged from an awkward family confrontation in the kitchen, to an engagement party, to a school reunion, to a bar-room drinking session, where characters spent half the time reminding each other who they were: ‘I’m your cousin, Mare!’
All this, and a murder too. Teenage mother Erin (Cailee Spaeny) was easily the most likeable figure in the first episode, devoted to her toddler son but bullied by his father, dimbo Dylan. Dylan has a new girlfriend with a vicious temper, and the pair of them trick Erin into wandering through the woods at night.
Round two: Winslet and Pearce also co-starred in 2011. Winslet has admitted, ‘Guy Pearce was my crush when he was in Neighbours’
You can guess poor Erin’s fate. Surely everyone knows by now that it’s fatal to go walking in the woods when there’s a depressed, hard-drinking detective in town.
Practically the entire cast consists of suspects in Erin’s murder. The likeliest killer has to be the charming, self-deprecating novelist Richard, the one who romps with Mare on his sofa just an hour after meeting her.
Richard is played by former Neighbours star Guy Pearce, who was also Winslet’s co-star in the last major piece of television she filmed, the remake of film noir Mildred Pierce, ten years ago.
Winslet has admitted, ‘Guy Pearce was my crush when he was in Neighbours’. There’s undoubtedly a crackle of chemistry between the two, though their scenes were largely filmed after the introduction of Covid restrictions and their conversations are conducted at a distance.
If you like your crime thrillers cold, bleak and anguished, with long-hidden secrets working their way to the surface like skeletons, Mare Of Easttown is well worth digging up.
Bring your notebook – you’ll need it. And you won’t be wanting your bonnet.
Mare Of Easttown is being screened on Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic and at all times on the streaming service Now.
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