How Does Sky's Mildred Pierce Compare to the Film?

HBO have remade Mildred Pierce with Kate Winslet in the single-mother-of-a-psycho role that won Joan Crawford an Oscar in 1946. This version--a five-part miniseries (starting on Sky Atlantic on Saturday, June 25 at 9pm) directed by Todd Hayes--has been touted as a truer interpretation of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, but it lacks the film’s pace and shadowy, noir bite.

Winslet does a good haunted look and she packs dozens into the first episode, with plenty more to come. And while the Titanic actress’s performance is spotless, there’s a hulking great problem with the depiction of her character. Mildred Pierce embodies an interesting contradiction: a strong-headed woman ahead of her time, happy to sleep around and embrace her independence when her husband leaves her for a neighbour. But she’s also a dopey slave to her chilly, ambitious daughter Veda, and to a lesser extent her lover Monty (played by the excellent if disconcertingly orange Guy Pearce). That would be fine, except there’s nothing to explain--or even hint at--the reason behind this incongruity. And it’s hard to care about a character when you’re not given the tools to unpick their personality.

Likewise, Veda the Terrible comes out of nowhere. Played by pre-teen Morgan Turner and later by fully-grown Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood), Mildred’s daughter is an anomalous shaft of evil, but we have no idea what made her this way. The young, cartoonish Veda would have made a perfect sibling for Family Guy’s Stewie, with her icy majesty and calculated brown-nosing. She’s hilariously abhorrent, so it’s hard to find her scary.

But these character complaints could just as easily be thrown at the 1945 film. The big problem with this fresh take on a misguided mother’s relationship with her femme fatale offspring is its length. In particular, the daughter’s journey from frosty, calculated kid to full-on, destructive menace takes forever. You’ll get bored waiting for the Veda effect to kick in.

Mildred Pierce’s five parts could have been cut to three, and I’d have liked to see some more of the vintage swagger you get with series like Mad Men. This is oppressively gloomy, plus there are way too many of Hayes’ signature shots through glass. Are we supposed to think this artistic layering? Because it’s just annoying.

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