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


The actor’s turn as a detective struggling with her personal demons is absolutely stunning, in a murder-mystery that keeps us guessing right till the very end

The best crime fiction transcends its genre limitations by using the crime as a character study. How do these different characters react when they come into contact with murder? The detective is the outsider, who comes to the community where the crime has been committed, solves the crime and moves on.

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A police procedural on the other hand, features investigators who are very much part of the community but are still outsiders in the way that the police force would always be. So you have Ian Rankin’s Rebus or Ruth Rendell’s Wexford and Henning Mankell’s Wallander — brilliant and flawed truth seekers trying their best to keep their communities safe even as they go through a great deal of lacerating soul searching.

We can welcome Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) into this jolly roster of crime busters. Mare is a detective sergeant in Easttown, a speck of a town in Pennsylvania. Like all good investigators in fiction, Mare is dealing with multiple personal problems while solving a homicide and following up on a teenager’s disappearance a year ago.

When Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage single mom, (there are lot of teenage moms in Easttown) is found murdered, there seem to be no shortage of suspects. Could it be Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle) the priest who left his last parish after allegations of sexual misconduct? Erin’s last call was to him.

Could it be Erin’s ex-boyfriend Dylan (Jack Mulhern) who was not willing to pay for the baby’s ear surgery? Could it be Dylan’s vicious girlfriend, Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing) who attacked Erin on the night she was murdered? Could it be Mare’s ex-husband Frank, (David Denman) who was seen buying things for Erin’s baby?

There is also Dawn (Enid Graham) who holds Mare responsible for not finding her daughter, Katie (Caitlin Houlahan) who went missing a year ago. When Mare’s boss, Carter (John Douglas Thompson) brings in a hotshot county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) to assist Mare, she is prickly as a hedgehog.

Mare of Easttown

  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 7
  • Creator: Brad Ingelsby
  • Starring: Kate Winslet, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice, David Denman, Neal Huff, Guy Pearce, Cailee Spaeny, John Douglas Thompson, Joe Tippett, Evan Peters, Sosie Bacon, James McArdle
  • Storyline: A detective in a small town investigates a murder and a disappearance

While the murder mystery runs along familiar whodunit lines of red herrings and suspects galore, it is the character study of small town America and its denizens that one is invested in. In the finale, which feels almost like an epilogue, where each character arc is tied off with a bow, the murderer reveal is almost an after-thought. Like any good murder mystery, the who is a big fat shock and the why is heart-breakingly poignant.

We all know Kate Winslet is a great actor, and in Mare, she has given us a masterclass in character building. Gruff to the point of rude and not above doing rather nasty things to get her own way, she is also a good friend to Lori (Julianne Nicholson) who has to deal with a philandering husband, John (Joe Tippett) and a troubled son Ryan (Cameron Mann). Lori’s daughter Moira (Kassie Mundhenk) has Down’s syndrome.

With her husband marrying again, her musician daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice), thinking of leaving Easttown to study at Berkeley, fighting a custody battle with Carrie, (Sosie Bacon) for Mare’s grandson, Drew (Izzy King), and a writer, Richard (Guy Pearce, who should have been a suspect just for his awful hair) courting her, Mare has enough and more on her plate. There is also her son’s suicide, which she has not grieved for yet. Winslet creates a fascinating Mare—only her mum, Helen (Jean Smart) dares to call her, Mary-Ann, her given name. With the Delco accent, the bulky jackets and sweaters, the hair pulled into a scruffy ponytail, Winslet immerses herself in this small town police officer so completely, that one has to consciously remind oneself of her luminescent good looks.

Beautifully shot by Ben Richardson in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Brad Ingelsby’s Mare of Easttown is a fascinating, binge-worthy show. While director Craig Zobel has said he is open to exploring more of Mare’s story, there is a satisfying symmetry to the mini-series.

Mare of Easttown is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

 



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