Kate Winslet steps into shoes once worn by Joan Crawford, but the original novel is given more breadth and time than Joan’s version. Don’t expect a happy ending but do expect some fine performance and recreation of a time period long past.
Mildred Pierce (Kate Winslet) finds out her husband Bert (Brian F. O’Byrne) is cheating on her so she kicks him out. She tells her daughters Veda (Morgan Turner) and Ray (Quinn McColgan) that they’ll be alright, even with dad gone. Her next-door-neighbor Lucy (Melissa Leo) thinks so too, but tells Mildred that she’ll have to get a job and soon men will come calling knowing that she’s available.
When Bert’s old business partner Wally (James LeGros) comes looking for Bert, when he finds out that Bert is out of the picture he indeed does look differently at Mildred. Mildred interviews with a socialite (Hope Davis) for a maid position but she treats her poorly, so Mildred refuses the job and leaves abruptly. On the way home she does get a job as a waitress but is concerned that the haughty Veda will look down upon her so she keeps it secret (or so she thinks).
She begins to formulate a plan to open her own restaurant and on her last day as a waitress meets playboy Monty Bergeron (Guy Pearce) who whisks her away to Santa Barbara. Mildred will be haunted by this flight of fancy, especially when the more adult and manipulative Veda (Evan Rachael Wood) brings many threats into her mother’s life with her machinations.
Mildred Pierce is based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, which was in turned made into a Joan Crawford noir vehicle in 1945. In a return to source, director Todd Haynes adapts Pierce into a 5 hour miniseries for HBO. As we find ourselves in some hard economic times the setting of the Great Depression may have some similarities (we may find ourselves in better shape) but the universal theme of mothers and daughters have a timeless quality.
Now, if everything turns out as it did for Mildred and Veda then we’d know how the term “eat their young” came about. Veda is a spoiled monster and Mildred is blind and only fosters Veda’s terribleness. Given a broader running time and canvas, Haynes is able to let the film unfold, breath, and stick more with Cain’s tale.
Crawford’s version was a bit more compressed and give a mystery element (not a bad thing though). Those differences between the Crawford and the Winslet can be argued but what can’t be argued is that this new version is masterfully acted. Both Winslet and Pearce would walk away with Emmys for their work here.
The entire cast is also fantastic, no doubt rising to the level of Winslet and Pearce. Wood is fetching, but she doesn’t take over Veda till episodes four and five. Turner gives us a good idea at how awful Veda will become (awful not being a descriptor of her performance) and Wood shows us the result of Mildred’s pampering and blindness. It’s a wonderful miniseries event and shows that much of the more interesting television is happening on cable right now.
Mildred Pierce is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (1.78:1). Special features are presented in high definition and include “Inside the Episodes” for all five episodes (running 5 minutes each, spoilers galore so don’t watch before the episode), the 30 minute making of, and commentaries with writer/director Todd Haynes, co-writer Jon Raymond, and production designer Mark Friedberg on episodes one and five. You also get the film on DVD as well.
Mildred Pierce evokes a time that may have some similarities to our own, but also proves to be a masterfully acted and made miniseries. Just don’t expect an uplifting ending and you’ll certainly want to get “stinko” after this drama unfolds, but that would have nothing to do with the acting, directing, or production design – those are top shelf.
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