In the 10 years since Kate Winslet was last on TV, there’s been an explosion of movie stars in high-profile shows and miniseries.
And yet, Winslet’s evocative new series, Mare of Easttown trumps all but the most glittering. It’s the best new TV series we’ve had this year, only It’s A Sin comes close.
Mare of Easttown, streaming now on Binge*, not only showcases Winslet’s prodigious talents as a performer but it’s the benchmark for prestige TV – a vivid, complete world where the characters and places are even more important than the mystery that ostensibly drives the story.
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It’s the kind of show that’s become increasingly rare as streaming services are flooded with dozens of competent drama series every month, each another moody carbon copy of every other.
So, when a series that’s as perfectly made as Mare of Easttown comes along, you want to cry out, “inject this into my veins”. There is something to be said about how HBO, though not as prolific as Netflix and certainly with its share of duds masquerading as prestige TV, still knows how to conjure unmissable TV.
Set in a fictional eastern Pennsylvania town, Easttown the kind of small place where everyone knows each other, but that’s not necessarily going to lead to the bucolic white picket fence surrounds you might expect.
Easttown is so downtrodden and depressed, the town is still hanging on to a high school basketball victory from 25 years earlier. Mare Sheehan (Winslet) was the star of that victory, but she’s almost embarrassed by it, as if the reminder of her past glory only highlights the many wrong turns in her life.
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Divorced with four generations under her roof – her mother Helen (Jean Smart), her daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) and her grandson – Mare’s piled up with problems at home and work.
She’s under pressure over an unsolved missing person’s case from a year earlier (the daughter of a classmate) and resents county officials sending in outside help in the form of young gun Colin Zabel (Evan Peters).
When a new murder victim is found, all of Mare’s challenges are converging, but so are some exciting new possibilities, namely a writer named Richard (Guy Pearce).
What Mare of Easttown does superbly is create a lived-in world where it’s believable that all these distinct characters that populate this town existed before the first shot and will continue to exist afterwards.
There’s a tangible history between all the interactions, and no one feels compelled into an exposition dump to explain it, it’s just there, among the grime of Easttown and its secrets.
Winslet is, of course, stellar as Mare, a woman who’s already lived through enough tragedy for three lifetimes. Her frustrations are etched all over her face, and heard in the tired voice of her specific Delco regional accent. It’s Winslet at her best, which we all know is extraordinary.
And this is not a case of one movie star outshining her colleagues because writer Brad Ingelsby and director Craig Zobel have assembled a top-class cast, which also includes Julianne Nicholson, David Denman and Sosie Bacon, who all bring their A game to their roles. Peters and Smart are particularly strong.
These impressive performances and the rich world-building means that for a murder mystery, the mystery isn’t even that central.
It could go nowhere and it wouldn’t even matter because Mare of Easttown has already done everything it needed to do and more, that rare, confident series which jumps off the screen, fully formed.
That’s the mark of great television.
Mare of Easttown is streaming now on Binge, with new episodes on Mondays
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*Binge is majority owned by News Corp, publisher of news.com.au