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Cate Blanchett

She’s the queen of Hollywood, an actress who can play high or low, but never loses status

Nicholas Barber | November/December 2015

1997 OSCAR AND LUCINDA LUCINDA LEPLASTRIER
It’s appropriate that this, her breakthrough film, had “Oscar” in the title: Blanchett has rarely stepped in front of a camera since without landing an award nomination or three. Her Leplastrier is a backwoods free spirit with bird’s nest hair, a face-splitting grin, and a fierce lust for life – watching in 1997, you’d never think that this unguarded wild-child would end up as cinema’s go-to girl for patrician sophistication.

1998 ELIZABETH ELIZABETH I
At the start of “Elizabeth”, Blanchett is fresh-faced and girlish. In the sequel, nine years on, her Virgin Queen has become a jaded office manager. She doesn’t have to shout to show everyone who’s boss. A dismissive flick of the hand or a patronising pat on the shoulder is sufficient. There are also echoes of Margaret Thatcher in her low, deliberate voice: Elizabeth as the Golden Age’s Iron Lady.

2001 THE LORD OF THE RINGS GALADRIEL
In a film series not known for its ambiguity (key: goodies are pretty, baddies are ugly), Blanchett brings some welcome mystery to her portrayal of Tolkien’s pointy-eared telepath. Her unearthly poise and shining beauty suggest that she is on the side of the angels…but no one can be quite that poised and beautiful without being creepy, too. Then there are the frowns and moues that ripple Galadriel’s serene surface. She knows more than she is letting on, but Frodo and the gang are mere children compared with her, so there’s no sense in worrying them.

2004 THE AVIATOR KATHARINE HEPBURN
According to Wikipedia, Blanchett is “the only actor to win an Oscar for playing another Oscar-winning actor”. Strutting into view with her head so high you could balance a martini glass on her chin, she has mahhh-vellous fun with Hepburn’s Connecticut vowels; but a delightful caricature of head-girl heartiness gradually shades into a richer, more human portrait. It’s Cate’s Kate, not Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes, who realises that they belong together. And who realises that they don’t.

2006 NOTES ON A SCANDAL SHEBA HART
Blanchett doesn’t ask audiences to love or hate her characters. She just becomes whomever she is playing and leaves the judging to us. Case in point: Sheba Hart, a thirtysomething art teacher who has an affair with a 15-year-old. Blanchett makes her a breezily well-meaning and self-mocking trouper – at worst, maybe a bit silly and naive. It’s only at the end of the film that you think, wait a minute, hasn’t this over-privileged dilettante been sleeping with a schoolboy?

2013 BLUE JASMINE JASMINE FRANCIS
Woody Allen rarely makes great films these days, but he does get great performances, and as soon as he cast Blanchett as his version of Blanche DuBois – a part Blanchett had played onstage – the best-actress Oscar was hers for the taking. A tarnished trophy wife, Jasmine clings to her delusions of grandeur and her white Chanel jacket with the same horrible desperation. Most startling are her Jekyll-and-Hyde transformations: from airy hauteur to dark-eyed, vodka-sodden madness within the course of a single scene.

2015 CINDERELLA LADY TREMAINE
Disney’s live-action Cinders is a simpering Pollyanna, but luckily Blanchett is around to turn a reactionary fairy tale into an acid reiteration of her favourite theme: how exhausting effortless elegance can be. Lady Tremaine smiles with regal condescension, as if she’s doing her stepdaughter a favour by letting her sweep the floor. But when the smile slips, we glimpse a panic-stricken widow, drowning in debt. Life isn’t easy when your real daughters can’t snag a royal.

2015 CAROL CAROL AIRD
Blanchett was Oscar-nominated (again) for her turn as Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There”. She is back with Haynes in his sumptuous new Patricia Highsmith adaptation, playing a married mother who seduces a shop girl (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York: imagine Lauren Bacall bowling over Audrey Hepburn. There’s an inspiring maturity to Carol Aird: suave and smoky-voiced, she may be rocked by love, but, this time, she won’t let it destroy her.

 

Carol opens in America on Nov 20th, Britain Nov 27th

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