Kate Winslet, Nigella Lawson And The Undeniable Power Of An Apology

Sorry may be the hardest word, but it can also be the most impactful.

Kate Winslet Nigella Lawson

by grazia |
Updated on

There is a lot that can be said about Kate Winslet’s expression of regret for working with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Some may say it’s a case of ‘too little, too late’, pointing out that the accusations against both directors were well-known long before Kate appeared in their films – Woody’s Wonder Wheel and Roman’s Carnage. Some may wonder why women continue to be held culpable for working with such men, while the men themselves seem to be able to continue their work without consequence. There are plenty of valid responses to what she has expressed. But you know what? My instinctive, initial reaction is relief. It is proof that there is still a real, welcome value in saying sorry.

Well, she doesn’t quite say ‘sorry.’ Rather, she expresses complete disbelief that she ever worked with either of them. ‘What the f was I doing working with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski?’ she asks in Vanity Fair. 'It’s unbelievable to me now how those men were held in such high regard, so widely in the film industry and for as long as they were. It’s fing disgraceful. And I have to take responsibility for the fact that I worked with them both.’

It might not seem hugely significant, but it is undoubtedly validating to those who have criticised Kate’s choice to work with such men and, perhaps, were made to feel crazy or oversensitive. The victims and alleged victims of men like Roman and Woody may feel more heard and valued every single time successful actors like Kate hold their hands up and say ‘you know what, I was wrong. I believe you.’ It can’t be underestimated.

It’s two little words, hard to say: ‘I’m sorry.’ But an apology has so much power to heal. Look at Nigella Lawson. This week the TV cook and national treasure acknowledged a wound three decades old, with grace and humility. In 1993, she wrote a piece in The Evening Standard concerning Christie Elan-Cane, a non-gendered activist who has long-campaigned for the legal recognition of non-gendered people. Christie uses ‘per’ as a gender neutral pronoun, and we’ll honour that in repeating Nigella’s words:

‘Christie Elan-Cane claimed that [per] felt wrong as a woman and that [per] proper state was “androgyny”’, Nigella wrote. ‘To this end [per] managed to find a doctor to perform first an operation to remove both [per] breasts and then a further operation to remove [per] womb. No disease was detected or claimed: there was no medical justification for such brutal surgery. Of course, its Christie Elan-Cane’s body — [per] to mutilate as [per] wishes. But behind the desire for self-mutilation surely lies the most troubling self-hatred ([per] made no bones about [per] disgust at her femininity) and that’s not the kind thing you can excise with a surgeon’s scalpel.’

Christie has harboured the hurt caused by those words for 27 years, and repeated calls for an apology, now offered:

‘I am very glad to have the opportunity to apologise’, Nigella tweeted this week. ‘While I certainly meant no harm, unfortunately that doesn’t mean I didn’t harm. And I’m sorry. I hope that the past 27 years have been rich and happy ones for you.’

It’s classically gracious from Nigella who, in recent years, has proven herself as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. It would have taken her a minute or so to write those words, but their impact is undeniable. Christie, and all who follow Nigella (note that she tweeted it publicly rather than taking a private avenue) will be heartened.

Apologies come every other day in the world of celebrity. YouTubers caught using inappropriate language post tearful videos for their millions of viewers. Ariana Grande felt compelled to apologise for licking a doughnut and saying ‘I hate America.’ Vanessa Hudgens said sorry for calling pandemic-related deaths ‘inevitable.’ Some expressions of regret seem more genuine than others, of course, but when they feel sincere, and are expressed well and with intent, they are uplifting and atoning. This week's news that Will Smith is reuniting with Janet Hubert for a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air retrospective is astonishing. The pair have not been kind about each other in interviews for thirty years. Will apologised via a magazine article, but Janet said the pain lingered. But, clearly, they have found a way to move on and smile together again. It would not have been possible without a 'sorry.'

I look at someone like Laurence Fox, who yesterday apologised for sharing a private communication between himself and former castmate Rebecca Front. The message between them reflected their disagreement: Rebecca took issue with Laurence’s recent comments on ‘AllLivesMatter’, and blocked him on Twitter. Rebecca has accepted Laurence’s sorry, and has asked that the matter be considered closed. But the whole incident made me wonder: if Laurence ever felt sorry about the more important matter at home – amplifying a movement that, one could argue, is innately racist – would he express it? Would he be brave enough to say ‘I was wrong. I got carried away. I am sorry’? Or would he fear that he’d gone too far down the road, and couldn’t turn around now. So many of us refuse to apologise not out of a lack of regret, but because we think it’s too late. But it is truly never too late.

That’s the thing about apologies. They are cleansing. They lift up the person who has done wrong, bringing them closer to the wronged. It isn’t always easy to forgive a crime, a slight or an error, but it’s the first vital step. You can’t move forward without it.

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