Review: 'Mildred Pierce' (a five-part miniseries)

April 24, 2020
Mildred Pierce

‘MILDRED Pierce’ is a novel by James Cain which was first filmed in 1945 and it gave Joan Crawford her only Oscar award. Cain is noted for his crime novels that were successfully filmed, like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity”.

“Mildred Pierce” is different as it’s more of drama, but in the movie adaptation, they made it into a film noir. Mildred’s husband, Monty, was killed and the opening scene shows her talking to cops then her story is told in flashbacks. 

In the novel, no one was actually killed and the TV miniseries directed by Todd Haynes (best known for Oscar nominated films, “Far From Heaven” and “Carol”) is more faithful to the book. The novel is set in California during the Depression years of the Prohibition Era, from 1931 onwards, but this is not at all mentioned in the movie. Haynes’ 5-episode mini-series traces Mildred’s story (as played by Kate Winslet) from the early 30s and her relationship with her headstrong and devious daughter, Veda (Evan Rachel Wood) is delineated with more detail. 

Veda is very good at the piano and Mildred supports her all the way.  She has a lesser role in the movie as played by Ann Blyth but, in the TV version, she has a longer role and is shown making it big as a classical coloratura soprano. She also does not kill Monty (played by Guy Pearce) and the TV series shows them moving together to New York. Veda is portrayed here as a born bitch. Her hatred for her mother who loves her so much and support has no logical basis and that somehow weakens the material.

The whole series is handsomely produced, with great attention to period detail and a definitely more highly sexualized version with its unabashed nude scenes, but what we dislike is its unconscionable length. At five hours, you can see the prodigious paddings to needlessly lengthen some scenes. The whole thing can be reedited to quicken the pacing and make it less cumbersome viewing. It’s only in its last hour that the pace is hastened and you get the feeling that everything is already being rushed.

If Joan won the Oscar as Mildred, Kate Winslet won both the Golden Globe and the Emmy for her interpretation of Mildred, a self-sacrificing mother who throws out her philandering husband right at the opening scene then works hard as a single mom for her two daughters (one of whom dies in the course of the story), first as a cook and baker, later as a waitress, and finally as the owner of her own chain of restaurants. It’s a quiet performance with many touching scenes. Evan Rachel Wood matches her as the musically brilliant but ungrateful bitch of a daughter, and they’re well supported by Guy Pearce as the opportunistic heel that mom and daughter shared in bed.