Mildred Pierce

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am


Mildred Pierce
Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: Todd Haynes

It's not difficult to see what drew Todd Haynes to Mildred Pierce: first appearing as a novel in 1941, the story of a middle-class woman's attempt to break free of social constraints mirrors the narratives driving the director's previous outings in Safe (1995) and Far from Heaven (2002). Haynes' television miniseries is pertinent to what's unfolding in the real world now. As the US (and the rest of the world) quivers from impending financial doom, Mildred Pierce - which chronicles the titular character's efforts to carve a niche for herself in the aftermath of the Great Depression - is as relevant today as when James M. Cain penned the book seven decades ago.

With a story spanning nine years and unfolding across five episodes with a total running time of 51/2 hours, Haynes' Mildred Pierce is a lushly mounted, technically superb production to behold. It illustrates vividly the social and cultural milieu from which Mildred (played by Kate Winslet) must extricate herself in the 1930s. This latest take - there was a 1945 adaptation - is loyal to its source material to the extreme. Haynes sticks to the novel's main objective in examining Mildred's attempts to keep her sneering and cynical daughter Veda (Morgan Turner in the younger years, Evan Rachel Wood in the character's teenage and early adult years) happy at all costs.

This new series is certainly ripe for a wild array of interpretation: along gender lines, for example, with Mildred the sole toiling individual amid an army of mostly useless men, from bankrupt property developer Bert (Brian F. O'Byrne) to the equally skint slacker playboy Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce); or in terms of how the story reflects on the formation of the entrepreneurial American dream, as Haynes provides careful exposition of the workings and pitfalls of the catering trade Mildred so keenly pursues; and, perhaps most importantly, a psychological study of motherhood, as Mildred confronts her mixed feelings towards her hostile daughter.

Winslet anchors the series, conveying her character's mental state without excessive histrionics; flanked by matching turns from her fellow cast members - Wood, especially, is electrifying as the disdainful Veda - Winslet's performance brings an already taut production to life.

Extras: no bonus features.