Express Yourself: A Guide to Kate Beckinsale

Feb 20th, 2005 | By | Category: Columns

I notice that some people seem incapable of tracking actors from one project to another, lovingly tracing their career path and supporting the dreams of someone they will never meet. I call these people “unfortunate.” I am told the common parlance is “normal,” or “not in need of medical help.”

But we’re not here today to discuss hair-splitting semantics like that! Instead, I am here to provide you with a shorthand guide to the career of a particular actor. First in our series is Kate Beckinsale, British starlet.

A short quiz to gauge your knowledge before we begin:

Who is Kate Beckinsale?

A) Rachel Weisz.

B) Julianna Marguiles in The Mists of Avalon.

C) The one with four facial expressions.

D) Claire Forlani.

E) Not that girl from Trainspotting.

C is the correct answer, though I will also accept B.

Kate Beckinsale, the darling of the limey screen, tripped onto a movie set one day with four facial expressions. She was not particularly warm or welcoming, but she was put together nicely and she had the bare bones of acting talent, which makes her more or less the IKEA bed of British cinema. (For comparison, please note that Rachel Weisz is the antique hand-carved Chinese imperial bridal bed, and Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald is that sleeping bag in the dusty corner of your old roommate’s new municipal apartment.)

Below, please find for your study a brief retrospective of the highlights of Kate Beckinsale’s career. In an effort to jog your memory, should you be fuzzy about her identity, I have provided a handy expression-by-expression travel guide. Each review will be labeled with one or more of her pouty-lipped expressions, as the movie evidenced.


:} Normal Kate

:`} Sad Kate

: {} Romantic Kate

:{}8 Boobs Kate


Kate’s first studio film was a Kenneth Branagh adaptation of a Shakespeare play. You could do worse, and so can Kate. (You’ll see. Oh, how you’ll see.)

As the virginal Hero and straight man to Emma Thompson’s protofeminist, Kate is fresh-faced and very pretty, and her bio-lab chemistry with Robert Sean Leonard is sweet enough that you can chalk up the lack of sexual tension to him, because, you know. The Leonard.

When Hero is wrongly accused of infidelity, her raging grief is affecting, and that bullshit where everything’s suddenly okay at the very end of the play is Shakespeare’s fault, so if she’s smiling like a jackass, you can’t hold it against her. Not her fault Shakespeare was a misogynist jackass.

Faces: :{} :`}


Kate decided to stay in the period vein for a while, and it really pays off in this BBC miniseries. She uses ALL FOUR FACES in her quest to portray a young woman of means who spends her idle time trying to make love matches. She really sucks at it (Emma, not Kate. This time), and only her good intentions keep her from being a villain.

As Emma, Kate skillfully maneuvers between genuine camaraderie and oblivious privilege, as well as skillfully maneuvering a corset that turns her breasts into neck warmers. Her realization that she has been unknowingly selfish is bested only by her realization that she is in love with family friend Mr. Knightley (played by Mark Strong and his shiny, balding scalp). Her vulnerability is affecting, and her brotherly chemistry with her costar is sweet enough that you can chalk up the lack of sexual tension to Strong, because, you know. The Bald.

Faces: :} :`} :{} :}8


A personal favorite. Kate waltzes effortlessly through this send-up of every genre ever, including the Dirty English Farm genre, the English Character Actor Playground genre, and the Shirtless Rufus Sewell genre. As Flora Post, she is an effervescent heroine and a formidable opponent, because you can fight The Man, but you can’t fight a hot bath and some contraceptives.

Kate makes only one face in this movie, but, in fairness, it’s hard to out-ham Ian McKellan AND Stephen Fry. She gets points for being the stoic center of a crazed cast.

Faces: :}


No faces. None. Okay? Zippo. Zlich. From anyone. Not even standard faces. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.

Faces: None, except possible shame after the fact.


Well, someone learned her lesson from the last big-budget action flick, I see. How reassuring.

Faces: :}8


Oh, Kate. Has life taught you nothing?

Kate once again breaks out the neck warmers for her role in this “film,” a word I use to describe this project only because “Swiss cheese” is already taken by some dairy company.

This vampire saga was shot in Budapest, where the rays of the sun do not reach. This constant darkness is a perfect breeding ground for undead models and Kate, who gets to wear a leather outfit and carry guns the size of her forearms. Please note that, due to the magic of Budapest, the leather never squeaks and her guns are four ounces each.

Kate tries very hard to make facial expressions, but is stymied by a mouthful of teeth that aren’t hers (though I suspect she should be used to other teeth in her mouth by now, if you get me).

Bad News: Her “love interest” is the dude from Felicity. Seriously.

Good News: She has amazing sexual tension with Bill Nighy.

Bad News: He’s her vampire dad. So busted.

Faces: :} :}8

Now that you’re familiar with the oeuvre of Kate Beckinsale, I encourage you to find some of her lesser known films, in which she tends to acquit herself much better. Try Shooting Fish, in which she plays a plucky doctor who is actually plucky and not just bipolar as so many “plucky” women are played.

Next time on Facial Expression Tour Guides: The Cast of the OC!

Sneak Preview:

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Genevieve is a prolific writer of speculative fiction living in New York, but you’ll never find her there because millions of people live there and Genevieve likes her privacy. Examples of her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Federations, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her first novel is forthcoming in 2011. Also? She has terrible taste in movies.

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