No surprise, my most anticipated film of the year (and at TIFF) is Kate Winslet’s epic WWII drama LEE. A passion project that Winslet has been developing for the last 8+ years, LEE is a stirring, emotional tribute to Lee Miller, an unsung legend in journalism whose work preserved an important era in history.
Miller (Winslet) was a former model turned wartime photojournalist for Vogue Magazine. And while she tried to get her photographs out for the world to see, she was much more private in her personal life. The film begins with the now older (and sassier) Lee opening up to a young journalist (Josh O’Connor) about her life. Through a series of flashbacks, we follow Lee during the height of her career in late 1930s and 1940s Europe as she navigates and documents Hitler’s rise to power (and eventual fall).
Miller documents everything from the horrors of the Holocaust to fighting on the front lines to Hitler’s apartment… including a cheeky look into what his bathtub looks like. She especially has to work hard to get her colleagues to respect her and to give her the same level of access enjoyed by her male counterparts. Still, it’s clear by the end of the film that Miller didn’t do this for notoriety, she did this to document the truth in war, which seals her legacy as one of journalism’s best.
Because LEE revolves around a woman who knew how to create visceral and engaging images, it was important to have such a focused vision behind the camera. And it’s no surprise that the film looks beautiful on-screen thanks to the brilliant vision of first-time director Ellen Kuras (a cinematographer herself) and cinematographer Pawel Edelman. It was amazing how they were able to recreate many of Lee’s own photographs, which Kuras told me were taken by Winslet herself. My personal favorite was recreating Lee’s infamous image of her in Hitler’s bathtub. The war scenes put the audience right into the action, with some SAVING PRIVATE RYAN-level explosions that will really get your blood pumping.
Start rolling out the red carpet for awards season because Winslet deserves all of the awards for her performance in LEE. At its heart, this film is a character study centered around a woman thriving in her career despite being stuck in a man’s world; still, she makes the most out of her situation and uses her gifts and influence to set herself above the rest. It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off such a multi-layered incredible performance. More than that, Winslet carries the film completely on her back, appearing in every single scene.
LEE also has a strong ensemble cast, with a particularly amazing supporting actor turn from Andy Samberg. He contributes a lot of heart to the film, providing the perfect sounding board and banter partner for Lee. Seeing many of the horrific images from WWII through his and Winslet’s performances are a real catharsis for the audience and exhibition of both actors’ enormous emotional range. It would not surprise me, in fact it would delight me, if we hear his name thrown around for award consideration.
I love that Winslet uses her position to consistently bolster female voices behind and in front of the screen. Not only does she spotlight understated female stories like Lee Miller’s, she also ensures there is strong female representation behind the camera. LEE is directed by Ellen Kuras, who was the cinematographer on ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, and the screenplay was written by Liz Hannah, Marion Hume, and John Collee. Additionally, there are a host of female producers and other major behind the scenes roles filled by women. Because Lee Miller herself encountered issues of moving freely in a male-dominated society, I appreciate that Winslet and the LEE team are doing what they can on the ground level to give women more of an opportunity in Hollywood.
I am so happy that with LEE, Lee Miller will finally get the acclaim and acknowledgment she deserves. This film really whets the appetite on learning more about her extraordinary life. Maybe now instead of the first Google results for “Lee Miller” referring you to Abby Lee Miller from DANCE MOMS infamy, it will direct you to this legendary photojournalist; a woman whose work shined a light on the world’s darkest moments and ensured they are never forgotten.
My Review: A