[Our thanks to Diva Velez for the following review.
With the HBO miniseries, Mildred Pierce
, director Todd Haynes tilts a lance at the public's memory of the classic 1945 film that brought Joan Crawford an Oscar and cinematic immortality. The biggest difference in Haynes' rendition is in its literalness; sticking nearly word for word to James M. Cain's original 1941 novel. When you're finished with all five episodes and nearly eight hours of the series, but for the cornerstone of the premise built around a mother's obsession to please an ungrateful child, you won't remotely recognise Haynes' adaptation from director Michael Curtiz's far briefer one.
The Depression was more than just a financial catastrophe; in the Pierce home, it's a permanent black cloud. Mildred's impasse with her cheating husband leaves her a single mother with all her focus on her daughter, Veda. Veda is one spoiled little madam, but Mildred only sees Veda's promise. Mildred will do anything for her child's love and respect, even hiding the waitressing job she must keep to survive. Mildred decides to use her remarkable homemaking skills to open up a restaurant of her own, eventually becoming quite an entrepreneur, yet none of Mildred's success ever gains her credit with her snobbish child. Mildred's new lover, Monty Beragon, a bankrupt playboy becomes Veda's new playmate and babysitter, training her in the ways of elitism and debauchery. The trouble begins when Veda learns those lessons all too well, but will Veda's reprehensible behaviour force Mildred to finally see the truth about her darling child?
Kate Winslet gives her all to Mildred, perhaps mercifully too attractive to dislike even in her character's unpleasant skin. Playing Mildred as one-note and miserable as she is here is a pretty thankless task, but Winslet more than meets the challenge. Veda is played by a younger actress for the first three chapters, then Evan Rachel Wood takes over and seizes the role for all that bad girl's worth. With Wood providing Veda's looks and charm, we can see why Mildred not only loves her child, but lives vicariously through her as a second chance to get things right. The excellent Guy Pearce plays the slithery Monty, a character that could have easily been one-dimensional but for the pathos and self-loathing Pearce imbues in him.
As an experiment in adaptation, Mildred Pierce
is interesting. There must be something to a production with a cast this brilliant and it is the superior performances that are really the compelling factor. If you can't appreciate the fine acting, the pacing in the first chapters is often excruciatingly slow and the material is simply not as incendiary as it might've been seventy years ago. Haynes further sticks to the novel versus the 1941 film by removing a huge noir-ish plot point that wasn't in the book, but made the movie a melodramatic smash. So, if you're looking for something fiery and sensational, this may not be your slice of pie. There are a few sex scenes sprinkled about, but those moments are few and far between and certainly not enough to hold anyone's attention through almost eight hours spread over more than a month of Sundays. Ultimately, for the purpose of keeping a cable audience over five weeks, the adaptation doesn't work as anything more than a tepid soap opera, nor did it require so much time to be told.Review by Diva Velez