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Kate Winslet entering 'historical figures career phase'? To play renowned photographer Lee Miller

Star gets a juicy role as one of the 20th century's finest photographers and most memorable models

Kate Winslet to play Lee Miller

Pablo Picasso and Lee Miller after the liberation of Paris, Rue de Grand Augustins, Paris, France, 1944 / credit: Lee Miller

Kate Winslet is to star in a biopic of the great 20th century photographer Lee Miller. The film is being produced by Troy Lum and Andrew Mason (producers of Saving Mr Banks and The Water Diviner, among other things) and is being made with the apparent cooperation of Miller's son and biographer, Antony Penrose.

It's surprising that Miller's story hasn't been filmed already. Possessor of one of the genuinely iconic faces of the 20th century, she started out as an artist's model, modelling for her own father from as young as eight (don't even get us started on how strange her father was.) She got her first break at 19 when in one of those classic why-miss-you're-beautiful moments, Vogue publisher Condé Nast stopped her from walking in front of a car. At 22, tired of being always in front of the camera, she apprenticed herself to Surrealist photographer Man Ray and became his lover and collaborator. She made a significant contribution to surrealist photography, but her artistic stature is cemented by the portrait work she did in the 1930s, and the often harrowing journalistic work she did in WWII as Vogue's official war photographer. She photographed wartime London, the liberation of Paris and was one of the first photographers to enter Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps after they were liberated.

After the war, Miller was haunted by post-traumatic stress and struggled with depression and alcohol, but she and her husband Roland Penrose (co-founder of London's ICA) hosted many parties at their Sussex farm, at which Miller exercised her skills as a gourmet cook. She died of cancer in 1977. Her photo archive is curated by her son, whose affectionate but clear-eyed biography The Lives of Lee Miller came out in 1985. Miller's star has been rising lately: Lee Miller and Picasso, a recent exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery documenting her long friendship with the 20th century's most famous artist, closed in September after rave reviews, but London's Imperial War Museum currently has a major retrospective of her war photography.

Winslet's a good choice to play Miller, and not just because she looks like her; she's always been at her best playing damaged and difficult characters. Her breakthrough role was as teenage murderer Juliet Hulme in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, she got the Oscar for her role as an ex-concentration camp guard in The Reader, and she was a hoot as the uptight and immensely dislikeable Nancy in Roman Polanski's Carnage. Miller is a meaty role for an actor: she was beautiful, talented and successful, but as her son readily admits she was also complex, flawed and driven by demons. With the right writer and director on board, a film about her life could be much more than just a competent biopic.

Lee Miller: A Woman's War is at the Imperial War Museum, London until 24 Apr 2016.


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