Kate Winslet as Jeanine in the adaptation of Veronica Roth's Divergent.
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Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet: The bright spots at the centre of Divergent

Kate Winslet's part in dystopian drama Divergent might just represent the ideal new character type for the English actress: ice queen.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the film version of Veronica Roth’s Young Adult novel Divergent and I wasn’t meant to be—even in the most flattering light, I’m no Young Adult. But there are two very fine performances in this futuristic drama set in a dystopian version of Chicago. One is from the 22-year-old star, Shailene Woodley, who plays Tris, the young woman whose wide-ranging talents make her anathema to the system of classifying civilians according to their specialities (the physical, the intellectual, the pastoral and so on). Tris proves that you can be good at climbing up buildings or leaping from great heights, but you can also work out complicated maths problems without counting on your fingers. Science fiction it may be, but the essence of the film is that timeless adolescent conundrum: who am I?

The other bright spot in Divergent comes in the form of a brief appearance from Kate Winslet as the Sinister Representative of Authority. That’s not her character’s name—I don’t recall if her character has a name—but this is indisputably her function, along with power-dressing to kill and generally looking amazing and evil and perfecting the ability to simper and scowl at the same time. She shows that Tilda Swinton need not have the monopoly on ice-queens.

It’s strange to admit but I had forgotten all about Kate Winslet until seeing her in Divergent. Yes, I know she had a new film out only last week (Labor Day) but that was very much in the grain of tasteful, middle-class, middle-brow, book-of-the-month-club projects like The Reader and Revolutionary Road (inflammatory novel, that, but a tame movie). Divergent doesn’t take any risks either, but it does provide an opportunity for Winslet to play a pantomime villain, something she hasn’t attempted before. With a few more chances like this, she could corner the market in classy, withering villains in Hollywood cinema, much as Alan Rickman (who is directing Winslet in her next film, the period drama A Little Chaos) did in the 1980s and 1990s.

That may not in itself sound like much to aspire to, but I’m all for actors rejuvenating themselves by darting off in unexpected new directions. Winslet showed she could be cruel from the very start of her film career: she played a teenage murderer in Peter Jackson’s chilling 1994 picture Heavenly Creatures. She acts infrequently now, and chooses scrupulously, but her decisions (with the exception of her magical cameo as herself in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s sitcom Extras) can err on the side of worthiness. Though her CV does not want for daring choices (Jude, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), it’s been a while since she felt new or unknowable on screen. That at least can be said of her brief, gleeful performance in Divergent.

Divergent is released 4 April.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis