What is it about Nicole Kidman that leaves so many people cold?

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The Independent Online

She's too thin. She works too hard. Her new film is a turkey. Lauren Bacall thinks she's too big for her boots. Barry Norman agrees that "Nicole Kidman is not within touching distance of being a legend". Poor woman. For years now she's been scrutinised, analysed, photographed and interviewed.

She's too thin. She works too hard. Her new film is a turkey. Lauren Bacall thinks she's too big for her boots. Barry Norman agrees that "Nicole Kidman is not within touching distance of being a legend". Poor woman. For years now she's been scrutinised, analysed, photographed and interviewed.

She's travelled the world working like a maniac, looking lovely, pressing flesh, turning out whenever she has to, always the consummate professional, always ready to push herself, to experiment, to try something new.

Never content with charming romantic comedies, or Hollywood cliché blockbusters, Ms Kidman chooses weird directors, odd films, challenging roles, interesting scripts, never repeating the same performance twice, always seeking to give something different to the cinema-going public.

And do we appreciate it? Not in the least. No one really likes Kidman as an actress, despite her versatility and awards. And no one even thinks she's that attractive - her beauty is always dismissed as cold and unsexy. She claims to have been broken-hearted about her break-up with Tom Cruise. But people don't really believe it. Even when they were married, the gossips always said that theirs was a marriage of convenience. And even though she has not found time to foster a meaningful new relationship since Cruise left her, people remain cynical about her claims that she puts her adopted children first.

So what is it that Ms Kidman does wrong? Why does she inspire grudging admiration instead of genuine warmth? I think it's because we sense that she is too eager to please. Insecure and driven, Ms Kidman is like the girl in class who can't stop herself from sucking up to the teacher, even though everyone, even the teacher, is repulsed by her neediness.

When she appeared in Lars von Trier's Dogville, she probably came very close to playing herself. In the Dogville village, the townspeople welcome, then take advantage of a stranger's good nature until eventually they are abusing her horribly. Over the next few of her films, unless she can pull something amazing out of the bag, the critics will be angling to do much the same to her. What did she do to deserve such treatment? She accidentally let the world see how vulnerable she was.

Let there be light, but don't let it damage our bodies too much

I'm transfixed by the research from the University of Texas that suggests that having a light on in the night may cause some cancers. The body needs melatonin to prevent damage to DNA and its absence stops fatty acids from reaching tumours and preventing them from growing. Since we need darkness to produce it, we've probably producing too little ever since electric lighting became available.

Professor Russell Reiter certainly believes his own research. "Once you go to bed you should not even switch the light on for a minute," he says. "Your brain immediately recognises the light as day and melatonin levels drop."

It is possible that we have the beginnings of a breakthrough in the prevention of cancer. But what is really striking about this research is that it points up just how little we know about the impactthe industrial age has made on our health. Yesterday yet another report came out asserting that there was no link between the MMR jab and autism. In the matter of vaccinations the debate is conducted as though nothing but the immunisation programme could be violating our children's bodies. It is as if humanity considers itself to be treading lightly across the surface of the planet in every respect but this one.

Instead, more heed should be paid to the general message behind this Texas research: that there are millions of things we take for granted that only recently came into the human ambit. That we don't really know what any of them are doing to us. And that things we take entirely for granted may be damaging us most of all.

Housewives' choice

Sharon Osbourne, the wife and manager of rock star Ozzy, does not hesitate to share her judgements of others, in the strongest possible terms. This, presumably, is why she's reckoned to be worth a reported £500,000 as a judge on a new television talent show, the X Factor.

But when she appeared to give out a gong at the GQ man of the year awards earlier this week, she surpassed herself. Introduced as a "housewife superstar", Mrs Osbourne stormed the stage, wild with indignation. The implication was that women who cared for their families instead of seeking monetary gain in the world of work were weak and contemptible.

What Mrs Osbourne doesn't appear to understand is that working outside the home for a lot of money, with which you can pay for childcare, cleaners and so on, is one thing. Working outside the home for a small salary and still having to do the cooking and so on is quite another.

This is real hard work, of a kind Mrs Osbourne has never had to do. Neither, no doubt, has Charles Clarke. That's why, surely, he appears to think that schools being open 10 hours a day is such a good idea. Provide 40 hours a week free childcare and then even people who don't earn much have no excuse not to join the economy full time, then start all over again after they've picked the children up, kissed them goodnight and tucked them into bed.

Mrs Osbourne clearly likes to think of herself as a strong woman. But she might consider that it takes a strong woman to resist cultural and economic pressure, government policy and the contempt of other women to assert that she is worth more to her family at home than she is in a job that consists, say, of looking after other people's children while they too go out to work.

By denigrating this tough choice, she insults many hard-working women - and many men - who decide that they have more to offer their families than cash and exhaustion.

¿ Any left-wing firebrands wondering how they came to agree with the Tories on tuition fees should consider one thing. The Conservatives can balance the books after abandoning tuition fees by restricting higher education, so that it becomes once more what it was 25 years ago: a rebate for the wealthy who sent their children to private school to be sure of grabbing the free university places. A return to the days when the rich studied for free and the poor not at all is far from progressive. That's why the Tories want it.

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