13 Jul 19

Nicole Kidman at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles this week. Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Nicole Kidman with Sunny Pawar, who plays the young Saroo, in Lion.
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Nicole Kidman with Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Nicole Kidman as author Virginia Wolf in The Hours Photo: Clive Coote, Paramount Pictures

It’s a strange conversation but I must have had it 10 times in the past month. Work colleagues, friends and just people you meet saying “yeah, I’d like to see Lion but I don’t like Nicole Kidman”.

The grievances are many. She’s too cold, she can’t act, she isn’t real. She’s over-rated. She’s only ever done a couple of good things. Maybe Dead Calm all those years ago. And To Die For.

And don’t get me started on The Hours, with all that glumness and the nose. And Moulin Rouge. And .

She’s only famous because of Tom Cruise. All that Scientology stuff is freaky. She must be getting so much work done. She’s too rich. She’s always in the magazines.

And I don’t even understand how she gets so many movies. What do all these famous directors see in her? She wasn’t even good in BMX Bandits. What was with that Eyes Wide Shut?

I’ve told the sceptics – every single one – to see Lion. Not just because it’s a really good film but it shows they are wrong: Kidman really can act.

Yes, it’s time for the haters – and there seem to be many as Lion has emerged as a Hollywood awards contender – to reassess.

Sometimes you get lucky with an Oscar nomination. You nail one powerful performance in a role that’s close to your heart and never get another opportunity like that again.

But Kidman now has a fourth Oscar nomination – best supporting actress for Lion – following best actress nominations for Moulin Rouge, a win for The Hours then Rabbit Hole. The same record as universally beloved Helen Mirren. Exactly the same as universally admired Geoffrey Rush.

People without talent – who weren’t even good in BMX Bandits – don’t jag all those Oscar nominations.

What we see on Lion is an intense, wrenching performance by Kidman as an adoptive mother dealing with one son torn being apart by an obsession about tracking down his lost birth mother and another one struggling with alcohol and drugs.

It’s definitely a supporting role in a film full of strong performances – including tiny Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as Saroo Brierley at different ages – but who else could have played Sue Brierley as well? Only a top-tier actress.

No doubt all Kidman’s personal connections to the story contributed to the depth of the performance: both are n women who knew early on they wanted to adopt, did so then years later faced a test of the bond between mother and child – in Kidman’s case, thanks to the niceties of Scientolology’s break-up counselling.

The scenes between Kidman and Patel elevate Lion to the point where the second half of the story is as affecting as the first half when young Saroo gets lost in India. There’s a touching humanity – a realness – in both performances.

Cate Blanchett deserves her standing as the country’s greatest contemporary actress; her work in films, stage and television shows she is a blazing, brilliant artist. With seven Oscar nominations for two wins, she’s up in the pantheon among the all-time greats.

But, gee, Kidman now has to be recognised as not just a star but a great actress in her own right. If you want to measure these things, second only to Blanchett in a country that has produced so many terrific actresses over the years.

Many Hollywood stars keep playing familiar roles, breaking out every now and then into an extreme transformation that will attract awards attention. They might follow the old “one for the money, one for artistic credibility” formula.

But the best ones push in different directions all the time, choosing challenging roles. Blanchett does that. Kidman does too.

Since 2010’s Rabbit Hole, she has had hits with the family charmer Paddington and, in this country, the drama The Railway Man. She has also acted in more adventurous films for notable directors in different parts of the world, including Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, Olivier Dahan’s​ Grace Of Monaco and Chan-wook Park’s Stoker. And it’s fair to say they didn’t all work.

Just lately, as well as acting in the television series Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake, she has worked with such leading art-house directors as Sofia Coppola​ on the western The Beguiled and Yorgos Lanthimos on the drama The Killing of a Sacred Deer. They might not be hits either but they show Kidman is willing to roll the dice. Try something bold. Explore new territory.

So as she approaches 50 this year, let’s recognise Kidman’s talent and stop the hate.


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