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Audrey Kupferberg: Mare Of Easttown

Kupferberg shows how she used to physically cut and paste film together.
Audrey Kupferberg inspects a film

I understand that actress Kate Winslet relishes playing what she refers to as “ballsy” women. Well, she hit paydirt when she signed to play the character of Mare Sheehan, a police detective, family matron, and well-integrated member of the fictional small city of Easttown, Pennsylvania. I imagine her confidence in the project as a whole also led her to sign up as Executive Producer.

Well, her confidence certainly paid off. Recently, Mare of Easttown, a seven-hour miniseries originally shown on HBO, was nominated for sixteen Prime Time Emmys. The show wound up winning in four categories, including a Best Lead Actress win for Winslet. Good news for those who do not subscribe to HBO; Mare of Easttown is now available on DVD and through Prime Video on Amazon.

Every aspect of production works in this series. The writing by Brad Ingelsby, who created and scripted the entire series, is superb. It’s a murder mystery which holds us captive right until the ending. The zigzags and twists don’t feel strained. There is no sense that the writers have prolonged the story to fill the seven-hour slot. The acting is outstanding. All the actors have mastered the Delaware County intonation.

Winslet wears this tough-minded but troubled character right down to her skin. With her daily costume of a guy’s t-shirt and flannel shirt with jeans, and a sloppy parka when the weather calls for warmth, she embodies the middle-aged policewoman who obsesses over her investigations and doesn’t quite know how to handle her private matters, serious as they may be. Guy Pearce plays a visiting writer/lecturer who tries to infiltrate the life of our title character. Jean Smart, as Mare’s mother, also embodies her character – a cocktail-sipping, unfulfilled seventy-year-old who seems stuck in her lifestyle.

That’s the thing about many of the citizens of Easttown. They are stuck. Only a couple understand the concept of moving on, seeing what is beyond the perimeter. There is nothing especially appealing about the city of Easttown, but people stay there, make their lives there. So many of the people to whom we are introduced are troubled, living life in a spider web of unhappiness and unfulfillment. Still, Ingelsby adds a smattering of wit and good humor, a sense of hope, just often enough to keep the audience entertained, occasionally smiling, and not just immersed in the serious situations that unfold.

Easttown folks place high value on family, even when family means messy complications. Their multi-bedroom homes are refuges for oddballs. Of course, crime is rampant, every type from petty theft, drugs, young women being snatched, and murder. Mare is known to almost all in the community. Because she is a cop? Maybe. But also because she sank a significant basketball shot when she was in high school, a feat still being celebrated years afterwards. Anyone living in a town the relative small size of Easttown will get the gist of that detail.

For detective story lovers who have finished watching Mare of Easttown and are aching for another good series, a recommendation of another HBO presentation is fitting. The C.B. Strike series is terrific. It is based on the brilliant mysteries of Robert Galbraith, the alias of J.K. Rowling. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger star as London-based private detectives Cormoran Strike and his trusty partner Robin Ellacott. Like Mare of Easttown, it balances the private lives of the lead characters with the crimes they set about to solve. The first four of the books are adapted with care and respect to the original works. They are available for streaming and on DVD.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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