As I say every time award season comes around, I'm not a big fan of miniseries in general, unless the word Torchwood appears in the title or there are people shooting things. I blame my mom for monopolizing the sole TV in the house with Thorn Birds when I was younger. Anyway, I decided to watch Mildred Pierce because I liked the original Oscar-nominated movie and I enjoy Kate Winslet and the sadistic part of me wanted to see just how terrible Evan Rachel Wood was in it. While this mini is beautiful and carefully crafted, the first segment, and a large hunk of the second part, move really slowly. On the one hand, it really gives you a sense of her life and struggles, but I wanted to get to the good stuff, and that doesn't really kick in fully until the end of Part 2. But while this film has some ups and downs with its pacing, it is extremely well executed and something I'd highly recommend sitting through, even though it is nearly six hours.
In the early '30s, Mildred is a housewife. She is also quite the exquisite cake decorator, she has two young children, but makes the brave decision to boost her cheating unemployed husband out of the house and to raise the kids by herself. This forces her to find different ways to support herself, and some are quite below her station in life. Her visit to socialite for a housekeeping job is entirely mortifying for her, and her two children (Ray and Veda) barely understand the lengths that Mildred goes to in order to give them an upper middle class lifestyle. Eventually she ends up with the demeaning job of a waitress, and parlays that into a chicken and waffle restaurant with the help of her overweight, sometimes lover Wally Burgan. She basically uses him to get what she needs, but Wally's using her too, and there aren't deep expectations, so no one really seems to get hurt. Well, until someone does... and if you watched last night, then you saw the extreme consequences of Mildred making rash decisions and engaging in a little bit of romantic fun with someone she's attracted to.
Not to give too many spoilers for the forthcoming parts for those unfamiliar with the book or the movie, but as the movie grows, so does my appreciation of Winslet in this role. She manages to convey a cool collectedness but on the same hand show the wide range of emotions that is necessary for this part. Guy Pearce is quite wonderful as well, as Mildred's polo playing boyfriend Monty Beragon. After the tragedy in Part 2, Mildred's life completely changes and Veda, goes from spoiled brat (played to perfection by Morgan Turner) to a selfish raging bitch. Turner delivers her lines with maturity beyond her years and you can't help but want to reach through the television and smack her yourself. It is only fitting that in as time goes by Veda gets increasingly more insufferable and the older version of her is played by Evan Rachel Wood. I have come to dread seeing Wood in just about anything (if you need reasons, see True Blood for starters) but here, her stilted way of speaking and her icy-off-putting ways really work, as Veda just has to come across as the most callous hateful being on the planet. And Wood does that well, its just a good thing that we as an audience aren't asked to find any redeemable qualities in this character, as I'm not sure that Wood in general would be able to garner my sympathy in any way. Rounding out the terrific cast is Melissa Leo, as Mildred's busy-body neighbor who basically explains to her how the "grass widow" system works.
While unevenly paced, sluggish in some parts, too fast in others, as a whole, this five-part series is pretty wonderful, and while I haven't read the book (yet!) it seems to be a quite thorough presentation of the subject matter. It may even make me rethink my position on mini-series, though I'm not sure all of them would be done with director Todd Haynes devoted hand and attention to detail, and I think that's what really sold this for me. And hey, at least I'll have something to root for in the mini-series category next year come Emmy time.
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