Director Todd Haynes’ HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce attempts to adapt the James Cain’s 1939 novel in a more faithful way than the classic 1945 film. Having never read the novel I’m not sure how much closer to the book this adaptation is, but I found it to be a much better film.
Kate Winslet stars as Mildred Pierce a depression-era housewife who suddenly finds herself a divorced woman trying to raise two daughters. Attempting to support them she faces an up hill struggle to find a job – any job – in the country’s desperate situation at the time, along with being a woman whose only skills have been being a housewife.
Realizing she will have to (in her mind lower herself) accept any kind of position she can, she lands a lowly waitress job. Using her persistence and smarts she eventually grows into a successful and wealthy restaurant owner, with no worries of money or providing her daughters the lifestyle to which she had always wanted to give them. However, all the wealth, possessions and sacrifices Mildred makes, she will never get the respect she craves from her spoiled eldest daughter Vera.
Mildred Pierce offers an appetizing role for any actress. Throughout the course of the story the character of Mildred goes through a roller coaster of emotional scenes and Winslet sells each one perfectly. When she would be desperate, ashamed, angry, betrayed, sexy, heartbroken, Winslet would make me believe it. I would get lost in her performance and never think to myself – ‘oh this is the big emotional scene to win an award’, which can happen by more showy acting. Kate Winslet is the main reason to watch the film.
Not that she’s the only good thing in the film. The supporting actors are all very well cast and do an excellent job. Guy Pearce does a very slick and relaxed role as Monty Beragon. Basically he’s a grown up spoiled rich kid whose money is all gone and now is faced with how to maintain his cushy lifestyle.
Giving another very good performance, Evan Rachel Wood as the grown up Veda proves she’s not just a young actor getting by on her looks, but she really can deliver the goods acting wise. I remember seeing her as the young daughter on the TV show Once and Again years ago. I never would have thought she would go onto such heavy hitting performances as she has done. She’s become a pretty well respected young actress now a days.
The period detail is excellent and really sells the time very well. It’s a five part series and by the fourth part things started to drag for me. The story switches focus on Mildred’s career to her relationship with Veda and I never found that portion as compelling. Compared to Mildred learning the restaurant business, trying to get loans and the struggle of her opening her own restaurant the Mildred/Veda portion was never as interesting to me and really started to dive into soap opera territory.
I guess I just found it more engaging seeing Mildred make her fortune than her losing it with someone who is annoyingly taking advantage of her.
Still for the majority of the series Mildred Pierce was worth watching.