The complexity of being: ‘Mare of Easttown’ is a story about real women

Kate Winslet in ‘Mare of Easttown’  

“Sometimes, there is salvation in being the lesser of two evils.”

In a show that brought Kate Winslet back on the sides of buses and in the hearts of everyone watching, Mare of Easttown is a moreish mural of misery, in the most bonafide sense of the word. The whodunit murder mystery is impressive in its blue-grey tones, subplots taut energy and suspicious characters. Created by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, it serves as a commentary on people, character building and a dismal portrait of a troubled town; gripping and devastating all at once. Its greatest success is its depiction of personhood which is treated with compassion, empathy and humanity in a way that understands the core of relationships and their inherent misgivings.

Also Read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox. You can subscribe for free here

The truth is that people are complicated. They are messy and wrong most of the time. Mare of Easttown gives space to this human condition of error in action and judgement. There is room for characters to falter and not be judged for it. Terrible things happen, but there is forgiveness even in tragedy. The show calls for a reassessment of morality, introducing the possibility of a non-binary judgement, of the non-existence of the singular moral dichotomy, of traditional ideas of good and bad. Sometimes, there is salvation in being the lesser of two evils. This is the essence of the series in microcosm.

A small-town cop, mother and grandmother, Mare Sheehan exists in a heavy cloud of burden, armed in flannel, a vape, a Rolling Rock and a Jameson shot. She carried an unmissable heaviness from the weight of her profession and personal tragedy. Every line of her body is marked with tests of endurance. However, Mare is world-weary, but not a cynic. The line often wears thin between exhaustion and hopelessness, and Winslet treads it perfectly. It is not that Mare is sad, it is that she is too consumed by the act of duty to be sad.

Mare is Philly and Philly is Mare. Their characters reek of loss and endurance. The Pennslyvania suburb is a tough town and one that is often overlooked by Hollywood, caught between the glorified cities of Boston and New York. Winslet as Mare simulates the Philly twang, a tricky accent to replicate, nailing the piquant attitude of the denizens of Delaware County.

Winslet plays Mare as a person carrying an unmissable heaviness from the weight of her profession and personal tragedy

Winslet plays Mare as a person carrying an unmissable heaviness from the weight of her profession and personal tragedy  

The careful treatment of other women on the show triumphs in its ability to capture the noiseless burdens and quiet courage of its female characters. There is Helen (Jean Smart), Mare’s no-nonsense mother; Beth Hanlol (Chinasa Ogbuagu) whose brother Freddie (Dominique Johnson) is struggling with opioid addiction and is caught stealing from her; Siobhan Sheehan (Angourie Rice) who, after losing family, was seen as a possible suspect but is just another high school student trying to make her way in the world; and Carrie Layden (Sosie Bacon) who lost the love of her life, caused emotional damage to Mare and her family, but wants to change her ways to be a good mother to her son.

Also Read: ‘Mare of Easttown’ review: Kate Winslet delivers a masterclass in character building

These women are rough, complicated and broken from the weight of their pasts. Erin (Cailee Spaeny), Katie (Caitlin Houlihan) and Missy (Sasha Frolova), all local girls who were either missing or dead (some with histories of prostitution and addiction), are not portrayed merely as victims or labelled as the ‘troubled young women’. Their characters are given explanations, stories and space to occupy as people first. Mare, Lori, Beth and Dawn all represent the sufferance and strength of strong female figures. They are consistently tested, but their tolerance for hardship prevails, as they hold onto each other in times of crisis. There is inspiration in their flaws, rage, sacrifices and scars.

In her interview with NYT, Winslet on playing Mare as a middle-aged woman, commented on her decision to keep the “bulgy bit of belly” that director Craig Zobel assured they would cut from her sex scene with Guy Pearce. “Don’t you dare!” she told him, also refusing to have the lines by her eyes retouched in the poster, “Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back.” To Winslet, it is the authenticity that allows Mare’s character such an ardent reception. People connect with her character because it is one seldom shown on the big screen. Winslet opines, “She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.”


Mare of Easttown is not about crime, but about the psychology of it. It is a story about a murder, but also one about grief, mental illness, trauma, small-town life and the opioid crisis. It is a story about young women going missing, but also about the unshakable allegiance of mothers protecting their children. For Mare, her inability to see that protection through for her son, who committed suicide, is her biggest and most inescapable grief.

Unattainable ideals of beauty, morality and correctness have always occupied screen space, be it through social media, cinema or photography, and the people are tired. The way Mare of Easttown has taken its viewership by storm acts as evidence because this is a show that does away with the ideals – with airbrush and photoshop, righteousness and ethics. Brief moments of weakness lead to irreversible consequences in the real world, and the show in its study of people and community stands true to the unadulterated.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 3:33:18 PM |

Next Story