HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” returns to its literary roots

 
 

If you’ve watched the original 1945 version of Mildred Pierce, don’t expect a remake from HBO. Some of the plot points are the same, of course, since both Mildreds come from the same source. But the miniseries, true to the book, does not start with a murder. The story is linear, not a flashback.

Like the original, however, it is Mildred’s movie. Kate Winslet is in every scene — every single scene — and gives an Emmy-worthy performance. The melodrama that Joan Crawford brought to the role — and Carol Burnett parodied so marvelously — is not Winslet’s style. And, at the risk of being flamed by classic movie buffs and gay men, I think Kate’s Mildred leaves Joan’s in the dustbowl. Of course, I would expect nothing less than amazing from Ms. Winslet, who relished the role. (Non-U.S. readers should be able to find all videos on HBO’s YouTube page or on the HBO website.)

 

The series begins with an almost frame-by-frame retelling of the book. Mildred decorates a huge cake as husband Bert (Brian F. O’Byrne) mows the lawn. But the idyllic setting deteriorates the moment Bert comes inside as Mildred critiques his timing for watering the yard. Before long, we learn that Bert’s real estate firm has gone under and he is unemployed. He also is having an affair. Mildred kicks him out of the house and finds herself in need of a job.

With the reminder that you’ll see a lot of story in this short preview, here’s a look at Part 1.

 

Morgan Turner, a relative newcomer who won the part despite competition from Elle Fanning, plays Veda in Parts 1-3. (We only saw the adult Veda in the first Mildred Pierce.) Wood gets higher billing for playing Veda in her late teens, but Turner certainly matches Wood’s performance. She goes from charming little girl to manipulative little vixen effortlessly. I expect this to be Turner’s breakthrough role, assuming she wants to continue acting. And I hope she does.

Veda is humiliated to learn that her mother is working as a waitress until Mildred tells her that she’s just learning the business to open her own restaurant. That mollifies Veda for the moment, prompting Mildred to actually follow through. The fact that the restaurant serves only chicken and pie is proof positive that Kate Winslet is the perfect woman.

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