TV Review - Mildred Pierce (2011)

Quinn McColgan (front), Brian F. O'Byrne (middle) &
Morgan Turner in "Mildred Pierce"
WBOC's Kayla Ayres did a January story on Quinn McColgan from Delaware. McColgan, 9, performed in two episodes of HBO's miniseries Mildred Pierce. The five-part series aired in the Spring and was nominated for an impressive 21 Emmy Awards this summer.

It's based on the novel by James M. Cain. It was made into a film in 1945. Joan Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1945 titular role. Here, Kate Winslet (Titantic and The Reader) is the title character and is nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress too. McColgan plays Ray Pierce, the daughter of Winslet's character.

Written by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) and Jon Raymond, this is a faithful adaptation that starts in Glendale, California, in 1931. Haynes doesn't direct this series with as much flair and without nearly as much melodrama as the 1945 film version of this. Initially, Winslet's performance is reminiscent of hers in Revolutionary Road. Mildred Pierce is a Depression-Era wife who is aware that her husband is having an affair and in fact calls him out on it.

Mildred separates from her husband, Bert Pierce, played by Brian F. O'Byrne. Bert leaves the house and only visits to see and spend time with their two daughters. Unlike the 1945 film, written by Ronald MacDougall, the financial situation between Bert and Mildred is never explicit. This is obviously prior to the idea of Child Support, so it seems that once Bert leaves the house, Mildred ceases to get any kind of money to raise their two girls.

Mildred then has to go out and find a job. Mildred's search does have some resonance with today's bad economy and the high unemployment rate. She initially turns down a housekeeping job because her potential employer, Mrs. Forrester, is too snotty, arrogant and too brutal about manners and etiquette. She also turns down a waitressing job because of her pride. Her friend and neighborhood gossip, Lucy, played by Melissa Leo, convinces her that any job is preferrable to no job.

This idea is perhaps the third noticeable difference that I saw between this miniseries and the 1945 film, which I feel is better entertainment. This 2011 series is more authentic to the source material and is extremely more realistic to how life probably was back then, but it's nowhere near as fun.

For starters, the original film was framed around a murder mystery. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the original movie had the look of film noir and that look, regardless of tone or style, was beautiful black-and-white. The production design, the lighting, camerawork and movement were all gorgeous and absorbing. All the actors were selfsame. The dialogue was 1940s in that it was fast and snappy, always witty and clever. That kind of witty and cleverness is absent here.

Secondly, Mildred has an affair with Wally, played by James LeGros, whereas she didn't in the film. I'm not sure why she does when LeGros is nowhere near as attractive as Jack Carson, who played Wally in the original film. I didn't understand the point of that affair. The two of them fall into bed and not so gracefully and then goes nowhere after that.

Thirdly, when Mildred turns down the waitressing job out of pride, I didn't understand that choice. In the movie, it's apparent from the get-go that her eldest daughter, Veda, is as snotty and arrogant as Mrs. Forrester, but that impression wasn't apparent to me in Part One.

Part Two does set-up that personality in Veda, but one scene was curious. That scene is when Mildred confronts Veda about her waitress uniform. The scene was played almost exactly as it's played in the movie 60 years prior. No other moment is played similarly, yet this one is. I didn't know why and it felt a bit jarring.

The introduction of Monty Beragon, played by Guy Pearce, was also a bit jarring. Mildred meets Monty randomly while working her last day as a waitress and within moments, she runs off with him to Santa Barbara. The film didn't have their connection be so random. The conflict of backgrounds is nicely established. She's a working girl. He's an entitled, Pasadena prince, but her running off with him makes not much sense in this context. In the movie, things are rushed and breezed past for time. The TV series can at least take its time to properly build things, which is why I again didn't get her running off with Monty the way that she does.

Mildred decides to start her own business. The movie does a brief montage and then instantly Mildred is this well-off businesswoman. The TV series instead gives a logical progression. That progression may seem long and dragged out and boring, but it builds like a crescendo to some great dramatic moments in Part Three. Winslet, Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Veda, have great dramatic moments beginning at the end of Part Three.

Part Four gives us more, great dramatic moments. It also gives us more progression, an evolution of Mildred's character as well as defining Veda's character, even if it's in more soap opera-ish ways. The problem is that the TV series stumbles in plot points in Part Four and onward. Haynes just doesn't handle the major revelations as fluidly as in the 1945 film.

Nevertheless, Winslet's performance is amazing, especially in Part Five, the final episode in the series. Winslet is desperate for the love of her daughter. She is as the Judy Garland song, "chasing rainbows," but she is ultimately not just heartbroken but heart drained, and Winslet through the screen drains the audience's heart as well. Winslet is that powerful.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA for language and sexuality.
Available on HBO on Demand.
Running Time: Part One - 59 mins.
Part Two - 1hr. and 4 mins.
Part Three - 1 hr. and 4 mins.
Part Four - 1 hr. and 10 mins.
Part Five - 1 hr. and 20 mins.


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