Kate Winslet has expressed surprise at the publicity surrounding the enjoy scenes between her and co-star Liam Hemsworth in The Dressmaker. Photograph: Allstar/Universal Pictures
In interviews this week, Kate Winslet, 40, expressed surprise at the publicity being offered to the age of her on-screen lover in her latest film, The Dressmaker, which characteristics a nevertheless rare pairing: an older lady and a a lot younger man. Her 25-year-old co-star, Liam Hemsworth, could not have helped, nevertheless, by admitting that he initially worried about whether their scenes with each other may well seem weird.
In contrast, Hollywood leading men are typically cast in co-star combinations in which, if the ages of the performers at the time had been represented as American football scores, it would be a excellent night for residence fans: 62-38 between Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas in The Horse Whisperer, and 62-34 for Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in As Excellent as it Gets, whilst Clint Eastwood had a 63-39 advantage more than Rene Russo in In the Line of Fire, and Bill Murray bested Scarlett Johansson 53-19 in Lost in Translation.
Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo in In the Line of Fire. Their 24-year age discrepancy is not that unusual in Hollywood films. Photograph: Bruce McBrooom/Channel five
The prevalance of such discrepancies, says Prof Linda Ruth Williams of Southampton University, has resulted “in a cultural revulsion against Might-to-December onscreen relationships in which the woman could only be Might while the man could be any month up to and including December”.
Growing sensitivity to the notion of the dirty old man was possibly the cause that, in Lost in Translation, the connection among Murray and Johansson remained at the level of ambiguous flirtation, and it might also be important that the director was a lady, Sofia Coppola. It was also a female film-maker, Jocelyn Moorhouse, who permitted Winslet her 40-25 margin in The Dressmaker.
A complication in these situations is that there is usually a contradiction amongst the chronological and character ages of an actor. The septuagenerian Harrison Ford nevertheless plays guys in a vague late middle age, and the age gap amongst Winslet’s and Hemsworth’s characters in the script of The Dressmaker is supposed to be far significantly less than in the actors’ passports. In basic, though, the age of an older man is ignored by the story even though female seniority tends to be a plot point.
But Winslet, whether or not by accident or design, has turn into anything of a poster woman for female-male age disparity in cinema. In the German wartime story The Reader (2008), she played love scenes with David Kross, an actor who was also a decade and a half younger, a reality that was central to the narrative.
The fact that Kross was playing a teenager led to accusations of paedophilia, with Winslet’s character getting as a lot flak from some for being an alleged kid abuser as for her character’s previous as a Nazi concentration camp guard. Similarly, in The Piano Teacher (2001), the middle-aged actor Isabelle Huppert’s onscreen partnership with a 17-year-old boy, although just about legal, is sado-masochistic.
Kate Winslet and David Kross were onscreen lovers in The Reader, which also starred Ralph Fiennes. Photograph: Picture Best/Rex Characteristics
These movies contrast starkly with Summer of ’42, a popular 1971 film in which an American teenager is sexually initiated during the second globe war by an older lady. Coming four years following The Graduate, in which the fortysomething Anne Bancroft showed a great time to a 21-year-old Dustin Hoffman, that film was one of a quantity of what might be called post-Graduate films that dramatised the schoolboy fantasy of seduction by a mature lover. Late examples are Tadpole (2002), and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), which claimed greater sexual leeway by becoming set in Mexico.
In the US and Britain, increased legal and social respect for the age of consent have decreased the reputation of this genre. Certainly, it is challenging to envision the creating these days of Homework (1982), a comedy in which Joan Collins plays a teacher who sets out to “make a man” of a teenage pupil. The trope of being shown the ropes by an experienced female nevertheless exists but the women involved are reduced to ridicule in gross-out comedies such as Cougars Inc, Cougar Club and Milf.
Even in serious dramas, the older female lover, although not laughed at, is frequently at danger of death or social exclusion. In Unfaithful (2002) and In the Bedroom (2001), Diane Lane and Marisa Tomei unleash events that lead to murder by taking boyish lovers. Just this year, in The Boy Next Door, Jennifer Lopez puts herself in terrible danger by hitting on the young hunk in the subsequent apartment.
Associated: Is Hollywood afraid of older ladies?
Amongst the very handful of examples of consensual romances in which the woman is old enough to be the man’s mother are the Catherine Zeta-Jones romcom The Rebound (2009) and, most notably, The Mother (2003), in which the female lead, Anne Reid, was old enough to be the lover’s grandmother.
The film’s director, Roger Michell, remembers there was stress from potential financiers to cast a performer with a history of sexual allure, such as Julie Christie or Charlotte Rampling, but he held out for Reid.
“Anne is really appealing,” he stresses. “But the point of the film is that it’s a sort of sexual Pygmalion, in which the character begins off invisible and becomes radiant. If the audience currently had a memory of lusting right after that actress in movie sex scenes, it’s a cop-out.”
The Mother is almost unique in treating a mature woman’s passion for a young man as passion rather than perversion. It’s a film, Michell says, about a grandmother “who wants to have sex with James Bond”. Which, as Reid’s lover was played by Daniel Craig, she did.
“What is so superb about Reid’s overall performance in The Mother,” says Williams, “is that it gestures to an apparently infinite road ahead. It’s a new kind of coming-of-age story. At the end, May is seen packing her bag and passport and simply disappearing down her suburban road. She might be merely going to the shops. But she’s slipping off the edge of the types of films ladies of her age utilised to feature in.”
Anne Reid and Daniel Craig in The Mother. Photograph: Everett/Rex Shutterstock
In a additional attempt at balance, Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi went on to make Venus (2006), in which a partnership in between an octogenarian man played by Peter O’Toole and a woman practically six decades his junior outcomes, really unusually in motion pictures, in rejection and humiliation for him.
Michell and Kureishi also collaborated on Le Week-End (2013), in which, Williams points out, Lindsay Duncan, now 65, “is wooed by a dashing, younger urbane Parisian, who tends to make her husband Jim Broadbent look all the greyer by comparison”.
Michell is about to direct Rachel Weisz, 45, and Sam Claflin, 25, as eventual lovers in an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel.
And, while Williams laments that The Boy Next Door, released as recently as January, showed the Jennifer Lopez character as becoming “punishable precisely simply because she took the risky step of pleasure with a considerably younger man”, she is hopeful that a shift is happening, by way of motion pictures such as Le Weekend and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), in which Judi Dench, 80, has a romantic storyline with the 65-year-old Bill Nighy.
“I feel,” says Williams, “that there will be an increase in films dramatising older girls as sexually just as entitled to all sorts of experiences as has been traditionally the case for older men.”