A Brief History Of Kate Winslet's Most Empowered Heroines

John Phillips/Getty Images/BFI.
From Rose in Titanic to Alex Martin, a stranded photojournalist in this Friday's The Mountain Between Us, Kate Winslet has made a career out of playing bold and empowered women — and she has an explanation for the pattern.
“Seeing how other women have responded to the kinds of roles that I’ve played has been more empowering than anything else. I go, 'Oh, there’s a message there.' Women are feeling good about how I’m trying to represent all of us. I take a huge amount of pride in that. I feel that that’s a responsibility that I now have, and I want to continue to honor that," Winslet told Refinery29 last week at a screening of The Mountain Between Us.
If it ever came down to it, I hope I could make the choice Alex does at the start of The Mountain Between Us: Leave shelter at the top of the mountain, and trek towards civilization. Winslet continually plays the kind of women I'd like to grow into. These roles are proof that the actress has been taking her duty as an ambassador for women in Hollywood seriously. She's doing it for us.
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Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Why She’s Awesome: Unlike her older sister, Elinor (Emma Thompson), 16-year-old Marianne Dashwood isn’t trying to make a “sensible” match. She’s too busy playing love triangle ping-pong, bouncing between the very handsome, too charming John Willoughby (Greg Wise), and very kind, too old Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). Sense and Sensibility is the perfect example of why we no longer let 16-year-olds choose their husbands — how can one so new to the world resist a Willoughby? Marianne’s also the poster-child for heartbreak recovery. Even after Willoughby tramples her heart, Marianne’s able to pick herself up and fall back in love.
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Rose Dewitt Bukater in Titanic (1997)

Why She's Awesome: Rose is, quite simply, the bravest 17-year-old ever depicted on-screen. She's fearless even before the Titanic tragedy, embarking on an affair with a boy from — gasp! — the steerage section of the ship. Then, during the actual Titanic horror show, Rose jumps from a lifeboat back onto the doomed ship so that she can wade through water-logged lower levels and attempt to rescue Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). It's no surprise that, 20 years on, Rose is still Winslet's most iconic role.
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Julia in Hideous Kinky (1998)

Why She's Awesome: Julia, a young mother of two daughters — six-year-old Lucy (Bella Riza) and eight-year-old Lucy (Carrie Mullan) — is tired of being boxed in by dull English conventions. So, she does what any free spirit in the early '70s would do: Uproot her life and move to Morocco. She and her daughters are like the long-haired, spiritual, Bohemian versions of the Gilmore Girls. While Julia goes on a grand truth-seeking journey that leads her into romance and Sufi philosophy, her children want to go home. "I don't need another adventure, Mom! I need to go to school. I want a satchel!'' one daughter says. Julia approaches motherhood with unconventionality and warmth, and eventually gives her daughters some incredible memories. The real Bea went on to write a book, upon which Hideous Kinky is based.
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Ruth Barron in Holy Smoke! (1999)

Why She’s Awesome: You know that vision quest you hoped you’d get around to after you graduated from college? Ruth actually does it, traveling to India and experiencing a spiritual awakening at the hands of a guru named Baba. Her quest for enlightenment goes a bit too far, at least in her parents’ perspective, when Ruth decides stay in India forever. Here’s where it gets funky: Her parents lure her back to the Australian Outback for a cult-deprogramming intervention. And then, Ruth pulls the ultimate power move. She outmaneuvers, and eventually seduces, her deprogrammer (Harvey Keitel).
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Clive Coote/Miramax/Mirage/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Iris Murdoch in Iris (2001)

Why She’s Awesome: Iris Murdoch was a prolific, Booker Prize-winning British author. Just playing her in a film meant that inevitably, Winslet would be playing another empowering heroine. Winslet shares the role of Murdoch with Judi Dench, who plays the author after she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
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Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Why She’s Awesome: Who hasn’t wished they could banish the ghosts of their former relationships? In this film, extinguishing entire relationships from your mind is actually a possibility — and after they break up, Clementine chooses to wipe out all traces of her tumultuous romance with Joel (Jim Carrey). It’s not necessarily “brave” to delete the past. Bravery comes when Clementine, blue-haired free spirit, decides to give the relationship another go when she meets Joel again, despite knowing that they’d dated and broken up in the past.
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Sylvia Llewlyn Davies in Finding Neverland (2004)

Why She's Awesome: When Sylvia, a widowed mother to four sons, meets the eccentric J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) in Kensington Gardens, she doesn't do what the rest of us might — look at him awkwardly and shuffle along. Instead, she lets him into her sons' lives, and he becomes an imaginative and exciting surrogate father for her sons. Barrie eventually bases the character Peter Pan off of Sylvia's son, Peter. We can thank Sylvia's open-mindedness for the story of the boy who never grew up.
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Iris Simpkins in The Holiday (2006)

Why She's Awesome: Iris Simpkins is awesome simply because she appears in one of the world's most underrated holiday-themed romantic comedies. Iris knows she has to get out from the toxic, on-again, off-again relationship she has with her coworker, Jasper (Rufus Sewell). So, she uses a home exchange service to trade her quaint cottage in Surrey, England for a mansion in Los Angeles for two weeks. She ends up meeting Miles (Jack Black), a very lovable music composer, and deciding "why not" to a long distance relationship, which is a pretty brave thing to say "why not" to.
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Dr. Erin Mears in Contagion (2011)

Why She's Awesome: In this terrifying movie, a highly contagious fatal strain of the bird flu has been unleashed unto the world. The superheroes in a doomsday scenario like Contagion's are people like Dr. Mears, a member of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, who must track the outbreak back to patient zero so they can develop a cure. Dr. Mears travels to Minneapolis, the center of the outbreak, and sets up safe zones for the uninfected. She's fearless, stern, and determined to remain calm, even if she's at risk of being infected herself.
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Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs (2013)

Why She's Awesome: Winslet coordinated with the real Joanna Hoffman while preparing for the role of the Apple co-founder's working partner and confidant. Hoffman had been head of marketing at Apple under Steve Jobs, and her relationship with Jobs had been personal as well as professional. As Winslet put it in Vulture, Hoffman was "pretty much the only person who could actually knock sense into Steve, and she was also kind of an emotional compass." The real Hoffman also intervened to make sure the role was as true to reality (and thus as badass) as possible. "Originally, the character was much more subordinate. I’ve never been anyone’s work wife," Hoffman said, of making sure she was depicted as Jobs' equal in the biopic.
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Jeanine Matthews in Divergent (2014)

Why She's Awesome: Remember, "awesome" doesn't necessarily mean "good." It could also mean "inspiring an overwhelming feeling of fear." Sure, Jeanine is the evil ruler of a dystopia that categorizes people into wildly broad categories, allows for the systematic drugging of Amity farmers, and sanctions the hunting down of teenagers. But, we admire her high IQ, and strong political capabilities. She's one of the most memorable cinematic villains.
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Tilly Dunnage in The Dressmaker (2015)

Why She's Awesome: "I'm back, you bastards," says the glamorous Tilly Dunnage as she arrives to the Australian Outback backwater she'd escaped from 20 years ago. Life in Dungatar had been hell for Tilly — she'd been accused of killing a boy, a crime she doesn't remember committing. So, she left town, and spent the last two decades in Paris, Milan, and London, working as a high-profile dressmaker. Now that she's back, she promises to spiff up the wardrobes of her former tormenters. But what's her end game? Winslet heads the parade of small-town, period piece eccentricity that is The Dressmaker.
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Alex Martin in The Mountain Between Us (2017)

Why She’s Awesome: When her flight is cancelled because of a snowstorm, Alex will do anything — including board a tiny airplane — to get home. She’s getting married the next day. Unfortunately, the pilot has a heart attack, leaving her and her seat mate, Ben (Idris Elba), stranded in the mountains. Whereas Ben wants to stay in their makeshift shelter, Alex insists they be active, not passive, in their survival strategy. She takes off down the mountain on a fractured leg, and motivates a reluctant Ben to come along, too.
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