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Kate Winslet Plays Iconic Model Turned War Correspondent, Lee Miller, In New Biopic

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Kate Winslet’s latest film sees the Oscar award winning actress taking on the role of renowned Vogue model turned war correspondent, Lee Miller, in a new biopic, Lee. The story, of a Vogue fashion model journeying to the front lines of Nazi Germany, would be impressive as a fiction—let alone as the reality it was. 

While the film has already premiered at Venice Film Festival, we’re still waiting for it’s mainstream cinema release. While we do, let’s give you a run down of the history we wished we learned at school, and introduce you to the real Lee Miller. 

Lee Miller
Lee Miller in 1932. (Credit: Getty)

Who Was Lee Miller? 

Lee Miller was a fashion model, photographer and war photojournalist. Born Elizabeth Miller in Poughkeepsie, New York, the young Lee had a challenging childhood. At just seven years old, Lee experienced severe sexual assault when she was raped and infected with gonorrhea. As a student, she struggled in classes and was expelled from nearly every school she went to. Her passion, however, lay in photography, which her father introduced her and her brothers to at a young age. These photography lessons weren’t exactly benign, with the teenage Lee being subject to nude photography sessions with her father. 

Things took an upward swing when Lee was 19 years old, and almost got hit by a car. The accident was prevented by a man who happened to be Conde Nast, also known as the then-publisher of Vogue. Captivated by Lee, Nast helped her launch her modelling career by putting a drawing of her on a 1927 cover of Vogue, in which she appeared in an iconic blue hat and pearls. The look became what then-Vogue editor, Edna Woolman Chase portrayed as the ‘modern girl’ of the era.  

Lee Miller
Lee Miller’s first magazine cover in 1927. (Credit: Getty)

After a few years of being one of the most sought-after fashion models in New York City, Lee travelled to Paris to study painting. While there, she became Man Ray’s photography assistant, muse and lover. Once their relationship ended, Lee opened up her own studio in New York, where she worked “in the style of Man Ray.” 

When World War Two broke out, Lee journeyed to the front lines of Nazi Germany  as a war correspondent for British Vogue. Despite her editor expecting soft-focus photo essays, Lee handed in gruesome portrayals of the reality of war, including photographs of starving prisoners, German Nazis who had died by suicide and perhaps most famously, a photograph of herself bathing in Hitler’s own bathtub after he fled Munich. 

After the war, Lee suffered from, what we would now refer to as severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She drank heavily and was haunted by images of the war. She also married Sir Roland Penrose, and gave birth to one son, Antony Penrose. She died of cancer in 1977, at the age of 70. 

What Is Lee About? 

Lee is adapted from Lee’s son, Anthony Penrose’s novel, The Lives of Lee Miller. While a biopic of Lee’s life, the film focuses on her experience as a war correspondent in Nazi Germany, and the impact it had on her afterwards. The action begins in 1938, just before Lee heads onto the front line.

The film recreates some of Lee’s famous photographs, including Hitler’s bathtub and her infamous nude picnicking scene, which Kate Winslet has opened up about mustering up the courage to pose topless for. 

Kate Winslet

When Will Lee Be Released? 

Lee has already premiered at Toronto Film Festival and is yet to set an Australian release date. 

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