Mildred Pierce (HBO Miniseries)

HBO’s 5-part mini-series is a readaptation of James M. Cain’s novel of the same name, which was first adapted to the screen as the 1945’s Mildred Pierce, with Joan Crawford in the title role. It tells the story of suffering mother Mildred, who does everything in her power to give everything she didn’t have in life to her daughter Veda.

This time around, Mildred is played by Oscar Best Actress winner Kate Winslet, while her spoiled daughter is played — later in life — by Evan Rachel Wood, and the manipulative Monty played by Guy Pearce, all under the direction of  Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven).

HBO’s Mildred Pierce is a more faithful adaptation of Cain’s novel, told in chronological order instead of flashbacks and voice-overs, and also plays as a full-on drama of the period instead of a film noir. The art direction is perfect, every little detail of the houses, cars, clothing, exteriors, everything screams 1930s.

In it, Winslet’s Mildred is fragile — not aggressive at all — and a lot more conflicted internally. When Melissa Leo’s character Lucy suggests that Mildred give a little something-something to none other than Mildred’s ex-husband’s ex-co-worker, we see her doubt, we see her fight, and finally give in. When Mildred must look for a job, we see her flinch, too proud to be a maid, to proud to be a waitress.

When the time comes to get back with her daughter, Mildred is weak. She doesn’t really let Monty know what she needs him for, and in that sense looks manipulative. But it seems more like Monty manipulating us into believing it’s everyone’s fault but his, everything — the attitude, and everything. It makes Winslet’s Mildred more complex, but in need of a shrink.

Mildred’s relationship with older daughter Veda, first played by Morgan Turner then by Evan Rachel Wood, takes a little getting used to. Because they’re played by two different actresses with a similar number of episodes, it’s more difficult to accustom our brains to either of their faces. Veda is still an insolent child, but Wood’s older Veda is more cruel to her mother, despite having the same speech as Ann Blyth’s version. In Blyth’s speech against uniforms and grease, we feel like slapping her to shut her up, while Wood’s delivery is a lot more defiant against Winslet’s less dominant role.

The problem with HBO’s Mildred Pierce is that it is a lot longer and a lot more boring. Haynes’ pacing in his stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Top that off with Winslet having to fill Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning role — those are huge shoes to fill.

While the mini-series offers several more hours than the film, it does not go deeper into the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Instead, we get a lot more about Mildred’s relationship with the world, as a separated woman, and as a woman looked down upon by “rich” people. Her relationship with Monty is, at first, cautious and as that relationship begins deteriorating, we get to see his manipulations. Pearce’s Monty is a cocky douche that happens to be good in bed, and many times got what he wanted to take.

In the end, fans of the novel would be happy for such a faithful adaptation, but HBO’s Mildred Pierce is tedious and boring at times. It would have probably been better material for a two-part series.

Rating: ★★★¼☆ 


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

9 Responses

  1. Ashley Washington says:

    I can agree with this whole-heartedly. I was severely disappointed with how little time was spent looking at the relationship between Mildred and Veda. It seemed like everytime they began to get somewhere, there would be a cut to some completely unrelated development related to the restaurant or something. If I were to approach this version without having seen the movie, I would be incredibly thrown off by how awkwardly misunderstood Veda’s aggressiveness appears against Mildred’s passivity. The slowness did indeed become an issue. I found myself pausing the show to do other things at some points and then I would occasionally just get sick of Mildred’s behavior with Veda.

    • amy says:

      @Ashley Washington, besides blaming Haynes’ slow pace, I think a lot of the blame – for those who didn’t like this version – lays on the source material, I guess. The Curtis version, in my opinion, improved the whole story to make Veda get what she (and the audience) needed – a good payback.

      It was also one thing to see Winslet have a successful business, and another different thing seeing Crawford running the business. The aggressiveness in Crawford’s interpretation is a fascinating thing for me coming from that era.

      Mildred “manipulating” Monty to get Veda back also didn’t sit too well for me, because it played a lot more like just needing him, as she doesn’t have Veda and suddenly sees him in the streets.

      But I stand by my first opinion, fans of the novel will like it. xD It’s also probably going to get nods for miniseries, actress, and a lot of supporting nods.

  2. Don says:

    Good review, but not enough praise is given to Melissa Leo for her outstanding performance as Lucy. Her contribution to the film is very important despite the fact that she did not have a great deal of time on screen. Her advice to Mildred helps us understand Mildred, but I do not understand what Mildred ever did to Veda, if anything, to cause Veda to treat Mildred like she did. Here is where Lucy failed Mildred. Lucy should have recommended that somebody take Veda accross their knee and give her a good spanking.

    • amy says:

      @Don, that’s true. Lucy seem to have a say in a lot of what Mildred actually did, and made work. Sleeping with Wally, getting her the idea of selling alcohol, and the idea of opening a luxury restaurant that could sell meat, lobsters and fish.

      In any case, Lucy should’ve had more to say about Veda’s attitude other than “warning” her about what Veda’s been doing.

  3. Kate Winslet had no problems whatsoever in filling Joan Crawford’s shoes. She’s probably a better actress than Crawford. And while I agree that the miniseries is a bit too long, it was not boring to me. And I thank God it didn’t have a useless murder mystery to get in the way of the plot.

    [“Her contribution to the film is very important despite the fact that she did not have a great deal of time on screen. Her advice to Mildred helps us understand Mildred, but I do not understand what Mildred ever did to Veda, if anything, to cause Veda to treat Mildred like she did.”]

    Veda is ashamed of Mildred. She wants the finer things in life and Mildred does not represent this. In fact, Mildred also wants the finer things in life, but is too insecure to consider it. So, she projects her opinions and desires upon Veda.

    • amy says:

      I think Warner and Curtiz went with the murder mystery to fit in the film noir of the era matched to Crawford’s campiness, which works in the film- Mildred imposes herself over Veda, and makes it all the more fun to watch.

      In here, there’s as much time dedicated to Veda/Mildred as in the film, but compared to the length, it seems minimal. We know Veda likes “the finer things” but for a 5-ep miniseries, it never goes beyond that- she’s just spoiled and rotten.

  4. [“I was severely disappointed with how little time was spent looking at the relationship between Mildred and Veda.”]

    I can’t believe I’ve just read this. Little time spent between them? Oh my God!

    • amy says:

      It’s really been years since I saw this, but they did explore their lives apart than they did with each other, except for the key scenes also shown in the movie version.

  1. March 2, 2015

    […] Pierce, which has now been re-adapted into HBO’s Mildred Pierce mini-series, starring Kate Winslet in the role that would give Crawford her first Academy Award […]

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