Petite and pretty, with dark hair, pale skin and flashing
eyes, Kate Beckinsale made a strong film debut as the virginal
Hero in Kenneth Branagh's sun-dappled adaptation of "Much
Ado About Nothing" (1993). Although she was a screen
novice, the actress projected the requisite intelligence and
star quality that deemed her one to watch. As the daughter
of comic Richard Beckinsale (who died when she was five years
old) and actress Judy Loe, it was perhaps inevitable that
she would eventually find her way to the limelight. Beckinsale,
however, spent a good portion of her teen years struggling
with an eating disorder (of which she has spoken frankly in
interviews) before she decided to try her hand at acting.
After a bit part in the BBC mystery "Devices and Desires"
(1991), she landed the pivotal role of the rebellious daughter
of a British woman (Judy Davis) involved with the French Resistance
during WWII in "One Against the Wind" (CBS, 1991).
Once she had become established as an ingenue with "Much
Ado About Nothing", Beckinsale carefully crafted a career
path that would not find her typecast.
Simultaneous to pursuing her education at Oxford, Beckinsale
continued to find challenging roles. In "Royal Deceit/The
Prince of Jutland" (1994), which was based on the Danish
prince whose life inspired Shakespeare's "Hamlet",
she starred opposite Christian Bale. A lighter, more charming
side to the actress was displayed in "Marie-Louise, or
The Leave" (1995), in which she played a young woman
searching for her lover in a crowded train station. Beckinsale
delivered a strong turn as the meddlesome orphan taken in
by eccentric relatives in the brittle comedy "Cold Comfort
Farm" (also 1995). As Flora Poste, she anchored the film
and managed to make a busybody character seem charming, and
in some ways it was a warm-up for her tackling "Jane
Austen's Emma" (BBC/AE, 1996). Although Douglas McGrath's
feature version starring Gwyneth Paltrow had opened on American
screens first, this version found its partisans who felt it
was more faithful to the spirit of Austen.
Capitalizing on the sass and intelligence she had projected
in both "Cold Comfort Farm" and "Jane Austen's
Emma", Beckinsale shone as an aristocratic med student
who falls in with two charming con men (Dan Futterman and
Stuart Townsend) in the underrated caper flick "Shooting
Fish" (1997). Adopting a flawless American accent, the
actress next registered as the bitchy junior publishing executive
seeking fun and perhaps Mr. Right in Whit Stillman's "The
Last Days of Disco" (1998). The following year, Beckinsale
retained the Americanisms to portray a mousy tourist in Thailand
who falls for a slick Australian, dragging herself and her
traveling companion (Claire Danes) into accusations of drug
smuggling in "Brokedown Palace". After time out
for motherhood, she returned to the big screen as Nick Nolte's
daughter in the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James'
"The Golden Bowl" (2000).
The attractive actress finally had a shot at more mainstream
success with two high profile leading roles in 2001. Beckinsale
was cast opposite John Cusack in the romantic comedy "Serendipity",
playing a woman who believed more in fate than love at first
sight. In the big-budget epic "Pearl Harbor", she
was cast as a US Navy nurse who falls in love with a dashing
pilot (Ben Affleck) but when news of his death arrives turns
to his best friend (Josh Hartnett) for comfort.