A-lister at awkward crossroads in career career

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Nicole Kidman is – or was until recently – an actress equally beloved by audiences and critics. She induced paragraphs of drooling, hagiographic prose from heavyweight reviewers (male and middle-aged) who are usually begrudging about paying the smallest compliment.

Meanwhile, the gossip columnists enjoy poring over her private life (the marriages to Tom Cruise and Keith Urban) while the multiplex crowd are drawn to her too - or, at least, they used to be.

The resentment she engendered from time to time was more because she seemed a little too perfect than because of any particular character or professional flaws. Willowy, long-limbed and with very pale skin, she looks delicate but seldom shirks a challenge.

In some ways, her career trajectory matches that of the TV presenter she played in Gus Van Sant's To Die For. She wasn't going to kill her way to the top like her character, but she knew exactly where she was going and was in a rush to get there.

In the blink of an eye, she was transformed from an Australian ingénue to a fully fledged Hollywood star. Being married to Cruise helped but she took her sudden celebrity in her stride, as if it was something she had always expected.

Now, her career is at a crossroads. The independent films to which she is drawn – and in which she often gives her most striking performances – tend to sink at the box office.

Last year's Fur, made less than $1m (£500,000) in the US. Jonathan Glazer's Birth likewise underperformed at the cinemas. While her indie flicks stutter, the studio pictures haven't all been commercial bean feasts either. The film world is brutal and chauvinistic – and far from sympathetic to female stars when they reach their 40s.

Thankfully, the character roles shouldn't dry up for Kidman. She is drawn to playing tormented and driven women.

And it's a fair bet that she will be back at the top of the box-office charts by Christmas. The Phillip Pullman adaptation The Golden Compass, in which she stars, is due out in the UK in early December. All the signs are that it will outgross any movie she has made before.

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