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Thursday, December 13, 2012

MILDRED PIERCE (2011)

Kate Winslet as Mildred
MILDRED PIERCE (2011 HBO mini-series. Director: Todd Haynes.

"I am never coming back to this hovel as long as I live!" --Veda Pierce.

This mini-series is adapted from the same James M. Cain novel that was the basis of the Joan Crawford movie of the same title. This version is much more faithful to the novel, as the Crawford version added a murder sequence that was not in the book and turned the original Mildred Pierce into a classic piece of film noir, which this version is definitely not. In the mini-series Mildred is played by Kate Winslet, who doesn't have Crawford's presence but gives a good performance, although it lacks spontaneity. The story begins in 1931 California where Mildred splits from her husband and is left to take care of their two daughters. As in the original movie, the proud Mildred gets a job as a waitress, bakes pies, opens her own restaurant -- and has to contend with her haughty older daughter, Veda [first played as a child -- and quite well -- by Morgan Turner, who might even have been able to handle the later sequences]. As in the novel Veda is studying piano, but discovers she lacks distinction. In the book she becomes an opera singer in a rather ludicrous fashion, so the mini-series wisely has her talking about it instead of showing it. The other major character is gigolo Monty Beragon, played by a credible Guy Pearce. Mildred Pierce has some fine performances and memorable sequences, such as a tragic death scene for a young character; an interview for a housekeeping job that Mildred has with rich bitch Mrs. Lenhardt [uncredited but very good]; Mildred's reaction when she first hears Veda's singing voice on the radio; and an explosive climax in a bedroom when Mildred sees her daughter's true colors in the cruelest way possible. The adult Veda is played by Evan Rachel Wood, who isn't bad in the part, but she just can't compare to the vicious brilliance of Ann Blyth in the original version [and Pearce can't quite erase memories of smarmy Zachary Scott as Monty]. Mare Winningham, James LeGros, Melissa Leo, Brian F. O'Byrne, and Quinn McColgan are all notable in important supporting roles. Nice music from Carter Burwell. Veda's gorgeous soprano singing voice is supplied by the very talented Sumi Jo.

Verdict: Pretty classy cable mini-series. ***1/2.

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