Mildred Pierce (HBO) Difrected by Todd Haynes Written by Tod Haynes; Jonathan Raymond Starring Kate Winslet; Guy Pearce; Evan Rachel Wood; Brian O’Byrne; Mare Winningham; James Legros; Melissa Leo; Morgan Turner; Hope Davis; Marin Ireland; Ronald Guttman; Miriam Shor
Melodrama is most often synonymous with soapy, overdone weepies filled with big acting and plot overstuffed with tragedy. With Todd Haynes it becomes something very different - period piece, riff on earlier masters like Douglas Sirk, and simply put - emotion infused drama of the highest order. This five part, 336 minute HBO mini-series has already deservedly received a heap of awards, including an Emmy for Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, and ones for music (the great Carter Burwell), casting, and art direction, and is nominated for many others. Based on the 1941 novel by James M. Cain, this adaptation follows the well-known 1945 film of the same name, which famously starred Joan Crawford. This version (perhaps owed in large part to the run time) remains truer to the book, telling the story entirely from Mildred’s perspective. Kate Winslet is nothing less than outstanding in a demanding role in which she is on screen throughout, dominating with a subtle, nuanced performance from start to finish. Guy Pearce as lover and later, husband, Monty; Melissa Leo as pal Lucy; and Evan Rachel Wood as grown up daughter Veda are also superb (young Morgan Turner is less successful as child Veda). Cinematographer Edward Lachman, who also teamed up with Haynes in Far From Heaven, gives the series a warm, cinematic look, and the period is lovingly evoked from an obviously talented design team and a director with a top-notch feel for period. The story revolves around the newly divorced Mildred’s search for identity and financial independence in pre-WWII America, but its narrow focus on one woman’s life does not belie the relevance to greater issues having to do with women, class, and the concept of the American dream. Though Mildred’s daughter Veda is a bit of a one dimensional character, blindly ambitious and pretentious from a young age, she is, of course, an outgrowth of something deep inside Mildred, a manifestation of her own desire to be better in the eyes of the community, and to live up to what she believes herself to be. Adapted by Haynes and director Kelly Reichart’s frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond, the script is tightly wound and extremely well modulated. An exceptional piece of filmmaking for a cable television station that continues to provide a home for important work in several formats.