Is Mare of Easttown too dark?

I resisted watching Mare of Easttown because I thought it’d be too grim and serious. Reviewers at the Guardian raved about the seven-part drama’s grittiness when it first broadcast in the spring. At the end of the year they listed it as no. 3 in their list of the top fifty shows of 2021, and described it as “a staggering, harrowing portrait of grief”. It didn’t make Mare of Easttown sound like a bundle of laughs.

When I finally succumbed to viewing the detective drama I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s not a cheerful show. This is a story about suicide, murder, divorce, betrayal, bad relationships, desperation and midlife disappointment. But it didn’t drag me down. I think it was because of the character Mare, played by Kate Winslett. She’s such an unusual woman to see on television; it makes her mesmerising to watch.

What I like about Mare is that she’s a very determined, loving and compassionate person who is also stubborn, emotionally bottled up, prone to anger, and capable of deviousness. In other words, she’s like a real human being. She isn’t restricted by traditional expectations of how women should behave. i.e. Smiley, pleasant, likeable. The other female characters are complex too. Each one has their layers, from the murder victim through to Mare’s family members and friends.

Guardian writer Gaby Hinsliff hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “The real genius of Mare of Easttown lay in treating the interior lives of Mare, her mother and her best friend as just as dramatic, poignant and varied as those of the dewy-faced teenagers around whom a million Hollywood coming-of-age stories have revolved.”

It used to be a common complaint that older female actors were only ever wanted for mother and grandmother roles. That was a bad thing because mum and gran parts were often very dull. These characters tended to be one dimensional, either supportive or shrill or worrying far too much. Mare of Easttown shows that mother and grandmother roles don’t have to mean career-death for older female actors.

On the subject of ageing, when Mare of Easttown came out, a lot of press attention focused on Kate Winslett’s appearance. Winslett, born in 1975, appears on screen looking exactly like a woman in her mid-40s. Winslett said of Mare, “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.”

It certainly was good to see a middle aged female face with sags and wrinkles, though this was by no means the main feature of the drama.

My favourite scenes of Mare of Easttown come at the end of the final episode. There are some jewel-like moments of reconciliation and redemption that illustrate how good human beings can be. And that’s another reason why this show isn’t too dark. Despite all the unpleasantness, Mare of Easttown does have something positive to say about human nature.

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