Kate's only the tip of the iceberg

Michael Greenwood on the Winslet sisters, latest in a long line of theatrical families

AFTER the Redgraves, the Fondas, the Sheens, the Cusacks and the Bridges, here come the Winslets.

There is a long tradition of acting family dynasties and now that the sister of Titanic star Kate Winslet has embarked on her first screen role the name Winslet looks set to join the ranks of Hollywood's finest families.

Beth Winslet will debut in the BBC drama The Scold's Bridle, to be shown over the Easter weekend. She describes her entry into the acting world as inevitable; her father, grandmother and her other older sister, Anna, are all members of the profession.

The 19-year-old "Baby" Winslet said: "Acting has always been there and because of that it has never seemed like this big glamorous thing. I was a member of the Starmaker theatre company in Reading from the time I was about eight and family Christmases are very theatrical in our house, we always play charades and do a play."

The phenomenon of acting dynasties is common in the US and the UK. Hollywood icon Lloyd Bridges, who died earlier this month, admitted that he pushed his two sons, Beau and Jeff, towards an acting career. "I encouraged them in an insidious way, because I loved acting and it has provided me with a great life," he once said. Both sons went on to success on television and screen with Jeff winning three Oscar nominations.

In Britain, the Sawalha family has emerged as something of an acting dynasty. While all the attention to the Sawalha name had paid to Julia for roles in Absolutely Fabulous and Pride and Prejudice, waiting in the wings was her older sister Nadia, who came from relative obscurity and working as a waitress in Pizza Hut to star as EastEnders bad girl Annie Palmer.

Heading the Sawalha dynasty is the unmistakable acting pedigree of their father Nadim. The 63-year-old played the unfortunate Egyptian who met a grisly end in the mouth of Jaws in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. He is more likely to be recognised for his role as Dr Shaaban Hamada in BBC's drama Dangerfield. Later this year, Nadim will star alongside Uma Thurman and Sean Connery in the pounds 40m Avengers film.

Martin Brown, from the acting union Equity, said the phenomenon of acting families may suggest there is an acting gene but, more often than not, their success comes from the atmosphere of an acting household.

"Family dynasties are much more likely to come from the cultural rather than the genetic climate. The success of the Winslets suggests they had a home life that fostered the sort of expressive attributes that you need to be an actor."

But Mr Brown says while there are many examples of acting families, for every sibling or child that follows in the footsteps of their relative there is another who shies away from the limelight.

"Many think the cost of being in the public eye is too great. If an actor has to go away to film on location then they can become an absent parent. Children from those families will often say, 'I do not want that sort of life - it can be extremely hard.'"

But for those budding actors with no family ties to stage or screen there is inspiration in the form of Bryan Smyth.

Until last month, just like his father and grandfather before him, Mr Smyth was delivering milk to the people of Dublin. Now the 34-year-old is tipped to be the West End's latest heart-throb after landing a role alongside Philip Schofield in a production of Doctor Dolittle.

'The Scold's Bridle' starts on 10 April on BBC1.

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