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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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser