When I heard that one of my favorite indie directors, Todd Haynes, was going to revisit the classic "Mildred Pierce" envisioned by hard boiled novelist James M. Cain--I was undeniably stoked and have patiently awaited the arrival of this new interpretation. Of course, everyone knows that an original film version won Joan Crawford an Oscar (not to mention inspired my second favorite Carol Burnett show)--but that presentation was more forties melodrama than classic Cain. Haynes has already proven a knack for period detail with the Douglas Sirk homage "Far From Heaven" (my favorite film of the year it was released), so I thought he might bring new life to this familiar tale. And, indeed he has. Eschewing some of the irony and romanticism that I had expected, Haynes has opted instead for a downbeat realism that highlights the Depression era class struggles in much more detail than the previous film version.
I must admit that I literally sat there and watched the entire 5 hour HBO story from start to finish. Of course, if you have a life--you probably aren't going to do the same and that's undoubtedly a good thing. I think it is best to let this "Mildred Pierce" unfold at its own leisurely pace. In truth, for my taste, the program runs a little long at five hours. Less patient viewers might struggle with the first part and its lengthy set-up, but things heat up considerably the further into the miniseries you progress. I respect Haynes' decision to modulate the narrative pacing--it certainly gives you more of an opportunity to get invested in the characterizations. So even if you initially question where the story is going and how long it will take to get there, rest assured that patience will be rewarded.
"Mildred Pierce," at heart, is a tale of mother love and sacrifice. As Mildred, Kate Winslet seems a perfect muse to illuminate both the strength and the desperation inherent in the character. Her devotion to daughter Veda can, at times, be challenging to understand--but the miniseries is much more able to flesh out the multi-layered dynamic that keeps Mildred from being a complete sap. Veda is haughty, snobbish, and self-involved--and Mildred is both her willing victim and her enabler. Mildred rises from broke housewife to restaurant entrepreneur, but is always a source of embarrassment to the entitled girl. And through the show, the ladies contend with the various men in their lives including Brian F. O'Byrne as Veda's father and Guy Pearce as a carefree playboy that might just prove dangerous for the pair.
Winslet gives a gritty and natural performance throughout. Even as tensions rise, she maintains a grounded sensibility that keeps things from veering into overwrought territory. Pearce has an oily allure and has turned into a really terrific character actor. I loved, loved, loved young Morgan Turner as the girlhood Veda. I laughed every time she said something. She speaks with such haughty precision, but isn't quite the monster that Crawford had to deal with. Perhaps the most difficult role to pull off in a naturalistic piece is the adult Veda. We don't even see Evan Rachel Wood until the final episodes and she decides to lay it all on the line. But oddly enough, this choice to go big absolutely heightens the drama of the concluding chapters. Cain is known for sexually charged crime stories--The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, for example--and that is also territory that "Mildred Pierce" covers. But where the movie led with a crime, Haynes' version builds to one. And I think Cain would appreciate this decidedly less glamorous approach to his hard edged piece. A beautiful production--this longer version is much like reading a fine novel, but might not be for those looking for instant gratification. KGHarris, 4/11.
on April 11, 2011
In Todd Haynes adaptation of "Mildred Pierce," gone is the noir drama of the 1945 movie of the same name with Joan Crawford, and some screenwriting from William Faulkner, and it's replaced with a more faithful to the James M Cain novel, which is a much more realistic portrayal of the times, and captures the bright realism of the novel which is plays more like a Edward Hopper painting than noir.
As in the novel, Mildred Pierce is a `grass widow,' which is depression era parlance for a divorced woman, needs to support her family of two children, Veda and Ray, because her husband Bert can't find a job and is carrying out an affair with a married woman. After Mildred throws Bert out she finds she only has skills enough for restaurant work and making pies. An employment agency sends her out on a job as a maid but pride won't allow her to take the job because she has to wear a uniform and defer to the lady of the house. Recuperating from the humiliation she felt at having to take a job as a maid in a diner she discovers they need a new waitress, and Mildred swallows her pride and takes the job. She quickly learns all the in's and out's of the restaurant business and opens her own, which in short order is successful. Her daughter Veda, who seems to have been born a snob, continually humiliates Mildred and those around her she considers of a lower social status (Why Veda feels that way we're never told, except from glimpses of Mildred behaving the same way such as kicking Bert only because she didn't get a winter fur coat) shows an interest in, and talent for playing the piano and as she grows older becomes an operatic singer. On the eve of opening her first restaurant Mildred meets, and has an affair with Monty Beragon, a faded aristocrat who's fortune's are in decline while Mildred's fortunes incline.
"Mildred Pierce" hangs squarely on Kate Winslet's shoulders as Mildred, not only does she turn in a strong performance she works in some nuances that inform the viewer of some of the texture of the novel.
Guy Pearce as Monty Beragon has another role, while not totally disappearing into the character gives a performance of the character that starts as a carefree playboy, to a rangy dissipate, while his appearance mirrors that change. His demeanor at first quite carefree but as time goes on, the elements that make Monty a charming aristocrat in decline darken and we see those same elements of him in a different light.
Rachael Evan Walker doesn't show up as the older Veda until part 4 and while she shows some very affected mannerisms for the snobbish Veda. Towards the end looks very vampiric as Veda takes everything Mildred has. Unfortunately, other than two very tempestuous scenes, that she makes the most of, Wood is mostly shown singing at various operatic venues. As the younger Veda, Morgan Turner is the snobbish, haughty child who you would like to slap her face off for her affrontery.
Mare Winningham as Ida is totally wasted in a part that could have been played by anyone. The two main male characters Bert (Brian F O'Byrne) and Wally Burgan (James LeGros) aren't given much to do except react to Mildred, especially Bert. But then they're weren't given a lot to do in the Cain novel either.
Since it follows the novel so closely it has some of the failings of the novel. There isn't a lot of action or inner drama. Some of the dialogue feels clunky pulled right from the novel, whether it's because some of the vernacular has become anachronistic since Cain wrote the novel in 1941, or it was clumsily written by Cain. An example, Veda's dialogue some times doesn't sound like a real person would say it, but a character in a book would.
HBO also has a half hour making of "Mildred Pierce" that I'm sure will make it to the DVD when they release it.
on March 28, 2012
Nominated for a slew of Emmys, HBO's Mildred Pierce is based on a novel that opens in the midst of the Great Depression, and centers around a housewife's attempts to keep her daughters fed and make a name for herself.
Money is tight and Mildred (Kate Winslet) has been padding the grocery bill by making pies and cakes. But when she decides to kick her husband Bert (Brían F. O'Byrne) out of the house for cheating on her and go at it alone, she rapidly discovers the world is not kind to a single mother. Determined not to rely on the charity of her friends, or accept help from her father-in-law, Mildred swallows her pride and becomes a waitress -- much to the horror of her eldest daughter, Veda (Morgan Turner), who puts on airs in spite of their impoverished situation. Soon, her talent in the kitchen will open up a new world of prospects, so long as she can keep the men in her life from becoming too much of a problem. Among them is the fashionable and charismatic Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce), but their tumultuous romance combined with Mildred's desperate attempts to live up to her daughter's impossible standards will take them all down a desperate path.
Even though this miniseries boasts lovely period details and an impressive cast, I am not in love with it. This is due in part to the protagonists, few of whom I managed to like. Bert is the best thing this series has to offer and he's cheating on his wife! Mildred is a completely insecure woman who bends over backwards to try and "earn" the love of her utter wretch of a daughter, and only winds up being hurt... over and over again. At some point, the audience becomes frustrated with her and wishes she would move on. Monty is a total cad. On the up side, Mildred never lets her situation get so far out of hand that she cannot control it. She makes the best of multiple bad situations and in the end finds a bittersweet happiness (one the book did not offer). But the entire series lacks any redeeming value, so it becomes tedious entertainment, more inclined to painful turmoil than situations in which we find joy. When I put six hours into a film, I expect something in return and this one did not pay out.
The cast is wonderful. Winslet makes a fine Mildred. The older version of Vera, by Evan Rachel Wood, is fantastic, complimenting the younger actress in such a believable manner that you can accept this is the same girl, all grown up. (She also at times eerily reminds me of Vivien Leigh.) But one has to wonder if Guy Pearce felt used, since much of the time all he is required to do is love scenes or stalk about the house, drink, and brood. I also had to question the need for full frontal nudity. The unlikable characters left me sorry that I bothered with this series at all. I'm grateful I had something else to do while it was playing in the background. It has no substance and the good cast doesn't make a miserable story worth my while.
on July 15, 2012
After the first two parts, I still wasn't sure what this story was about. Was it about a woman who pulls herself up by her bootstraps during the Depression? Was it about a middle class experience of the Depression? Turns out, it wasn't about the Depression at all but about the obsessive attachment Pierce has to her eldest daughter.
Parts 3-5 focus heavily on Pierce's relationship with her eldest daughter, Veda. The screenplay shows the "what" but for me, never answered the why, where and how. Why did Mildred Pierce put up with so much cr*p from her daughter? How did she reconcile the strong business woman and the woman that was walked all over by her own child? How did she manage the transition from housewife to the administrator of a small fortune? Where did these skills comes from? Where did she get the strength to believe that she could achieve such heights in an era where women were placed in such a limited niche? Wby did Pierce give so much, so blindly, to her child? I could only extrapolate reasons but I would have liked to have gone further into Mildred Pierce's inner world, which I felt I did so only in moments...like when she's listening to her daughter sing over the radio in part 4. I feel after watching all five parts that I still don't know Mildred Pierce much at all.
on April 14, 2014
I gave this three stars only for the caliber of the performances by the women in the supporting cast. Otherwise the story drags on. It felt like it took a month to watch this. There is quite a lot of filler material that is not really interesting and does little or nothing to advance the story. Kate Winslet's 'Mildred' is rather one dimensional. She looks perpetually confused. Difficult to imagine her as a shrewd business woman given how oblivious she seems in her personal relationships. Her willingness to repeatedly ignore the truth about her daughter despite the fact that it is constantly staring her in the face, is never explained or portrayed in any convincing manner, as it was in the original movie. She's certainly no Joan Crawford.
I kept watching this only because I had already paid for two episodes, and really was hoping it would get better. By episode three, I knew it was a lost cause. At that point, I continued only to see Evan Rachel Wood as Veda, (a younger actress played Veda in the first three episodes) and how they would handle the ending. This has a much different ending than the original movie. It was very anti-climatic and I found it disappointing.
MILDRED PIERCE may be an old story - class values and the Depression circa 1931 as remember form the 1945 film written by James M Cain and starring Joan Crawford - but in the hands of writer/director Todd Haynes and Jon Raymond and especially in the sensational performances offered by Kate Winslet et al the story takes on a new luster in the current economic situation in which we find ourselves. This is not meant to be a review of the entire miniseries, but instead a signal to those who may be avoiding this version, not caring to forget the 1945 version.
Mildred Pierce (Kate Winslet) is suffering quietly in a marriage where the 'essentially unemployed' husband (Brían F. O'Byrne) is having an affair to fill his idle hours and when Mildred discovers this she sends him packing: she has two daughters to raise in a 'proper way' and is encouraged by her friend and neighbor (Melissa Leo) to live her own life. Mildred becomes employed as a waitress (much to the chagrin of her snotty daughter Veda - Morgan Turner) and eventually turns her waitressing into a business of her own (she has always sold her pies and cakes for income), taking up with her husband's 'friend' (James LeGros) who later helps her finance her ventures in the restaurant business. As Mildred celebrates her success in readying her restaurant she meets a dashing rich lad from Pasadena (Guy Pearce) and after a spur of the moment one night trip to Santa Barbara she returns very happy only to find her younger daughter Ray is hospitalized...and the story will be continued.
For those who may have doubts about extending the original 90 minute movie into a 5 hour miniseries, have no fear. The expansion of the story is well conceived and executed - and the opportunity to see Kate Winslet own this role is well worth the time. Grady Harp, March 11
on May 19, 2012
Growing up with the older version of this movie, I was interested to see how this story was going to be retold, and needless to say, there was no disappointment at with this remake, it had so many twists and turns and the acting was superb all the way around. Kate Winslet did an excellent job of portraying Mildred Pierce, who for most of the movie had to survive on her own without her husband to raise two children, but tragedy strikes (you will have to see the movie to figure out what that tragedy is), and it sends everyone into a further tailspin, including her eldest daughter Veda,portrayed by Evan Wood (who is phenomenal in this role) for whom nothing was ever good enough. She started out sweet, but slowly grows into this diva, who had to have the best of everything often at the expense of someone else. And her mother worked to ensure that she had nothing but the best, and she sees both sides of the situation, it was tough when they were poor, and now that they have more, they had other people and problems to deal with that were not present before. It was wonderful retelling of a classic, and I recommend it, there is no comparison between it and the original, each is great in its own right.
on April 17, 2015
I WAS NOT GOING TO WATCH THIS SHOW I FELT SO LOYAL TO CRAWFORD...well, there was nothing to fear. No one, I say no one, can take Joan Crawford's crown away when it comes to this classic script--a story that has all the loves and kisses and bites and emotional stab wounds that can be garnered in an American family life especially where the women become successful in their own rite but Kate Winslet proves Winslet can have her own crown to wear when it comes to delivering this all-time classic. MILDRED PIERCE is such a mature role for any actress but I thought it could only be done one way and that was the Joan Crawforward way like The Elizabeth Taylor way--divas at their craft that can't be beat but Winslet demonstrates she's top drawer too. And the supporting cast becomes so real: even Bert, Mildred's first-ex-&-current husband. We all knew that Mildred and Bert should be friends, just friends, for the both of their sanity--Monty needs a caretaker; he is not a caretaker and Bert lost his home with his family behind some kind of sex he liked or was it the femme tatale in the other woman we do not see but she eventually ups and leaves Bert to go be with her rich husband in Texas. Apparently, Bert was just her sexual playmate--there was nothing to love about Bert except for over at Mildred's house where he was a member of the family. But then we do wonder about these two because Mildred hooks herself to a "cad" not half the real-man birth is in his soul but perhaps in bed Monty the cad provides Mildred with a new taste of heaven. (They could have left out the explicit sex in this series.) Anyway, Veda is left unattended and she finds herself with music: first playing the piano, the opera singing and how glorious that was--just esquisite. .
WHEN IT COMES TO A MOTHER'S LOVE...gosh this story, this version, hits home. Veda reminded me so of my own child standing at that cab and Mildred responded the way I do and then feel bad about it. This is why the script is so classic. It is a kind of mother-daughter relationship that comes along in many people's lives. In my own version: though it hurts in so many kind of ways I take full responsibility for my actions and have decided to remind myself that I had a job to do and I did it. My daughter has her own life now and she has a right to it. In this movie Bert and Mildred have a drink together and say: "good riddens" to their child, their daughter....but, it isn't over until it's over and even death does not part a mother & child sometimes. She wanted the best for Vida. She loved her daughter that much and after losing one daughter she wanted even more for Veda to have what she wanted. It's very complicated because we have yet to learn why Veda behaves the way she does. Is she in competition with her mother? Is her mother NOT trying to let go of her grown daughter? It is sooo tough. I was hoping the writers would do something to help Veda & Mildred but they didn't. BUT THIS THOUGHT: in the Joan Crawford version Veda kills Monty but Mildred confesses. In the end, the cops figure it all out and arrest the murderer and the last thing we see Bert and Mildred are arm-in-arm as friends and parental-comrads as they walk away from the police station...likely feeling lost like millions of other parents around the world. Veda told Mildred in a dry tone, "Mother, don't worry about me. I'll be fine." It's as if she's loving being criminal, in trouble, a murderer and none of that is bothering her like it "SHOULD". It's as if Mildred & Bert do not know their daughter at all (and parents don't) and who she has become without their permission (at twenty years old). ---MO
on October 10, 2013
An era when everyone was having a hard time making ends meet but even harder time for women, especially on their own. She is on a learning curve but is very determined but reluctant to take certain steps. Not only does she have to deal with getting a job, she has two young daughters, one the older is a very precocious, self absorbed child that expects she should have everything despite what it does to anyone else. A great lesson of life portrayed by Kate Winslet with emotion and determination you just love to watch in a woman. Recommend to adults, especially women who need to be reminded that you can do anything as long as you are determined.
on July 31, 2014
This series apparently stayed true to the storyline of the book. It is impossible to rate the series without comparing it to the original Joan Crawford movie. Kate Winslet simply did not express the edge and wide range of emotions necessary to convey the depth of the character. Even though the original movie with Joan Crawford veered far afield from the details and major ending of the book, it was far more enjoyable. It was Crawford at her scenery chewing best and Kate Winslet was a decidedly poor substitute. Some things should just never be remade. This was one of them. And to drag it out for five episodes was absolutely excruciating.