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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Kate Beckinsale: English pearl
Kate Beckinsale
The English actress Kate Beckinsale seems on the threshold of Hollywood superstardom following her appearance in this summer's movie blockbuster Pearl Harbor. But, as Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit explains, her quiet rise to fame has encountered many a personal tribulation on the way.

Kate Beckinsale is not the first English rose to provide a romantic interest in a movie set at Pearl Harbour. In one of the classic scenes in Hollywood, Deborah Kerr rolled erotically and, indeed, adulterously, with Burt Lancaster on a Hawaiian beach with the waves breaking suggestively over them.

Opposite Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor
Opposite Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor
This was in Fred Zimmerman's 1953 film From Here to Eternity which cost less to make than Touchstone Pictures spent on Pearl Harbor's premiere bash in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, no such scene in Pearl Harbor is likely to stand a similar test of time. Kate Beckinsale plays the part of an American nurse who is torn between two lovers. And if you think that phrase is a cliché, just watch this movie!

Fortunately for Ms Beckinsale, critics generally agree that she is one of the film's few saving graces apart from the exciting battle scenes themselves.

The beautiful 27 year-old actress is now following the same path as that other English Kate, Kate Winslet; a respectable film career sprinkled with Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Merchant-Ivory but culminating in a high-profile/budget blockbuster, in Winslet's case, Titanic.

Richard Beckinsale in Porridge
Her father Richard died when she was five
But Beckinsale's path has been paved with trauma. For years her name could not be mentioned without the reminder that she is the daughter of the late and much beloved Richard Beckinsale of Porridge and Rising Damp fame.

He died when she was just five years old. If that wasn't traumatic enough, after nine years of being an only child, her mother, the actress and casting director, Judy Loe, moved in with her husband-to-be, Roy Battersby.

He was a somewhat Bohemian film director whose unconventional household included his four pot-smoking sons and daughter. "I felt invaded", Kate has said. "Mostly I was sort of deranged and not the easiest person to deal with."

A deep-seated anger led her into therapy but it could not prevent her developing anorexia in her early teens. Her weight at one time dipped to just five stone.

Kate in Much Ado About Nothing
She played in Much Ado About Nothing while still at Oxford
But her private school was used to its middle-class pupils suffering from eating disorders and managed to cope with it. At school, Kate was very bright, excelling at languages and at English, twice winning for herself the WH Smith Young Writers competition for both her fiction and poetry.

Despite missing many lessons, she won a place at Oxford at the age of 17 to read Russian and French. In the meantime, she had managed to acquire an Equity card and had already had several credits under her belt before Kenneth Branagh offered her the part of Hero in his film of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

The parts continued to flow in. She even played in a French language film while studying in Paris as part of her Oxford degree. It was here that she decided to abandon her studies as her appetite for both an acting career and for food, increased.

In John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm
In John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm
There followed roles in Haunted, in John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm, a TV film of Jane Austen's Emma, and other films including Shooting Fish, Brokedown Palace, The Golden Bowl and The Last Days of Disco during the shooting of which she, allegedly, urinated in the director's tea following a row about a nude scene. It seems Ms Beckinsale is more feisty than her sweet-faced appearance might suggest.

Kate Beckinsale has a two year-old daughter, Lily, by Welsh actor, Michael Sheen, who recently played opposite Stephen Fry in Wilde. The couple who live in London, met while playing Chekhov's The Seagull in Chester not long after she left Oxford.

She also has a half-sister in the actress Samantha Beckinsale, of London's Burning fame. Samantha was the product of Richard's short-lived first marriage and the two have recently become re-acquainted since their paths went separate ways after the death of their father.

Kate at the premiere of Pearl Harbor
Every bit the star at Pearl Harbor premiere
Kate Beckinsale's next venture will be a low-budget Canadian movie, Serendipity, with John Cusack which she made during the time she wasn't needed on the set in Pearl Harbor.

Like Kate Winslet, she will need to juggle the ever-increasing demands on her with her role as mother. She will have more freedom to do that than Deborah Kerr who was bound by the restricting studio system.

And, because Richard Beckinsale was never a name outside Britain, daughter Kate has at least one less cross to bear.

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