Kate Winslet is best known for her Oscar-winning films like Steve Jobs and Titanic – but she can boss it on the box too. In 2011, her emotional turn as a Depression-era mum in HBO’s Mildred Pierce had everyone sobbing into their TV dinners – yet 10 years went by before her next telly appearance. Now she’s back in another moving miniseries, Mare of Easttown.
Winslet plays Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan, whose suffered more than most in a tragedy-filled life. Both her son and father died by suicide; then her ex-husband moved in next door with his new fiancé; while the previously supportive local community turned nasty after she failed to solve a missing child case. When the story begins, she is in dire need of a pick-me-up.
Luckily (or not, depending on your point of view), a corpse is discovered in nearby woodland – providing the perfect opportunity for Mare to rebuild her reputation. Or it would do, if the outsourced Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters, most recently seen in WandaVision) didn’t step in at the request of her superiors, partnering Mare for the investigation. Hiding a chequered past of his own, the newcomer is an irritant at first before endearing himself to Mare at a bar one night. It’s some of the best drunk acting you’ll see on screen, and a refreshing change from the actor’s more serious work for American Horror Story and Marvel.
Elsewhere, Hollywood heavyweight Guy Pearce makes an extended cameo as Mare’s love interest and university lecturer Richard Ryan, while Jean Smart (Watchmen) appears as her live-in mother Helen. They’re both quiet roles – Pearce replaced original cast member Ben Miles – yet Smart still manages to steal scenes with her dry wit. Behind the camera, Craig Zobel (The Leftovers) directs all seven episodes of the series with a minimalist touch – preferring to let an in-form Winslet take centre-stage over any fancy camerawork.
Grumpy, bullish and beaten down after years of tragedy, Sheehan is one of Winslet’s bleakest characters yet. She’s also one of her best. Puffing on an electronic cigarette as the drama slowly unfolds (she faces losing custody of her young grandson, too), Mare has a special type of resilience needed to survive in a male-dominated line of work, where every one of her decisions is scrutinised more than a male colleague’s would be. Come for the smalltown mystery that grips as much as it depresses. Stay for the magnetic performance from a real screen legend.
‘Mare Of Easttown’ premieres tonight (April 19) at 9pm on Sky Atlantic and NOW