I’ve always thought that Kate Winslet, besides being a very talented actress, was a fearless lady. She picks difficult roles that oftentimes involves being naked and sometimes involves unlikable characters. Always up for a challenge, she is. After watching her in HBO’s redux of Mildred Pierce I’m even more convinced that there is no flinch in the lady. She proves herself capable to stepping into the huge shoes of Joan Crawford.
The original Mildred Pierce starred the very formidable Joan Crawford. It is thought of as a gritty film noir classic. Indie director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far From Heaven) takes on the juggernaut and softens up the story about a mother’s devotion to her daughter. The entire cast lends itself to the production with Winslet ably portraying the woman who tries to give her daughter Veda everything and ends up enabling her snobby disposition to a tragic end. Evan Rachel Woods and Morgan Turner are both wonders as Veda, the daughter you want to kill with your bare hands. Guy Pearce is just the right combination of charming and swarmy as the playboy boyfriend of Mildred.
Haynes takes his sweet time (this is a five-part series) setting up his story. Like his other films it looks great and he really depicts the Depression Era decade quite well. Things really start going once the miniseries gets to the fourth and fifth parts. It takes a while for the pay off but if you are patient it will be well worth your effort.
Part One: Glendale, California, 1931. Mildred Pierce is a young mother of two girls and a talented baker. Her world changes once she discovers her husband Bert (played by Brian F. O’Byrne) is having an affair. Mildred kicks him out and tries to figure out a way to provide for her young daughters, Veda and Ray (Quinn McColgan). The United States is in the middle of the Depression and jobs are scarce. Mildred, who has never really worked in her life, has no real marketable skills yet still has lofty aspirations for herself. She begins having an affair with her husband’s former business partner, Wally Burgan (James LeGros). After a particularly disastrous interview at the home of a wealthy woman (Hope Davis) she sits down in a diner to have a good cry. While there she begins to think and swallowing her pride she asks the owner for a waitressing job. Despite her lack of experience there is something about Mildred that causes the head waitress, Ida (Mare Winningham), to recommend hiring her.
Part Two: 1931. Mildred, who has kept what she does from her daughters, especially Veda, who she knows will be horrified, begins selling her pies at the diner. With the help of Wally she finds the right place to open her own chicken and waffle restaurant. To get it she has to convince Bert to divorce her. On her last shift at the diner Mildred meets Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce), a wealthy playboy. Impetuously, she agrees to go away for the weekend on the Santa Barbara shore with him. Bad news greets Mildred upon her arrival home.
Part Three: 1931-33. After recovering from the tragedy, Mildred moves forward with her plans for her restaurant. After a slow start business begins to boom. Mildred hires Ida to help her at the restaurant. Veda is very impressed that her mother is dating Monty. Veda is a very petulant and haughty young lady. While she is working hard, Mildred begins to be bothered by the fact that Monty does not work, has gotten into financial trouble and just spends her money.
Part Four: 1937-38. It is four years later and Mildred is a smashing success. She has opened a second restaurant in Beverly Hills. Mildred and her friend Lucy (Melissa Leo) have become business partners. Lucy talks Mildred into opening a third restaurant, which Lucy will run, on the oceanfront in Laguna Beach. The distance between Mildred and Veda (Evan Rachel Woods) is growing. Veda is crushed when her piano teacher dies and his replacement mocks her lack of talent. She has begun seeing society boy Sammy Forrester. His mother, who ends up being the woman Mildred interviewed with years ago, approaches Mildred with a wild story about Veda. Mildred defends her daughter and then pays for it. An argument between mother and daughter happens that ends with Mildred kicking Vera out. They do not speak for months. Bert tells Mildred that Vera has become a singing success on the radio. Mildred wants to figure out a way to reconcile with her daughter.
Part Five: 1938-40: Though her attempts to reconcile with her daughter have failed so far, Mildred does get back together with Monty. Monty is thrilled when his rich girlfriend agrees to buy his family’s estate. Veda’s singing career is really taking off. The day of Mildred’s wedding to Monty, mother and daughter finally make up. The Laguna restaurant is in serious financial trouble. Wally threatens legal action against Mildred. This becomes the least of Mildred’s problems when she discovers what her devious and spoiled daughter has been doing behind her back.
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