Miniseries Review: Mildred Pierce

★★★★★

Mildred Pierce, the modern adaptation of James Cain's novel about the rise and fall of a woman during the Great Depression, is HBO's newest miniseries.

While many may remember and love the 1945 film version starring Joan Crawford, this miniseries is actually a much more faithful interpretation of Cain's novel.

The film opens with a stay-at-home mom, Mildred, diligently baking pies. The eggs are perfectly broken, the fillings are flawlessly textured and the crusts are evenly spread. Mildred's husband walks in after completing some yard work, tells her that he will not be having dinner with her, and Mildred informs him that she is aware of his infidelity. A fight ensues that culminates in Mildred kicking her husband out of the house.

The scene is quietly brilliant. In lesser hands, it would have been overacted and overstated. It's a prime example of how Mildred Pierce is able to create drama with quietness.

Kate Winslet plays the title character, Mildred. This marks Winslet's first screen appearance since she won her Best Actress Oscar for 2008's The Reader. Despite the hiatus, Winslet gives one of her strongest performances to date. She manages to make Mildred a quirky, hard-working and genuinely likeable character.

What makes Winslet's performance even more impressive is that she appears in every single scene of the miniseries – which is over five hours long. Over this lengthy running time, Mildred experiences joy, hardship, love, betrayal, success and failure. Winslet portrays all these emotions beautifully and realistically. Even when the material is almost begging to be overacted, Winslet stays more subdued and gives Mildred's character the authenticity it needs.

Director Todd Haynes, whose work also includes Far from Heaven and I'm Not There, is known for creating films with a distinct visual style and great attention to detail. Every aspect of Mildred Pierce is done with care. Haynes goes out of his way to make Mildred Pierce accurately portray 1930s California. While the production is extensive in its detail, the atmosphere still manages to stay understated. The series never tries to flaunt the production, but rather seamlessly incorporates it in to the world of Mildred Pierce.

Many viewers may have difficulty with the structure of a miniseries. It's too short to be considered a running TV show, but it's too long to be called a movie. The series may also turn viewers off because the plot moves rather slowly. This long running time and unhurried pace, however, allow the characters and plot to unfold organically. Those who are willing to give this miniseries a chance will be rewarded.

The final two parts of the miniseries aired on HBO on April 10, and all five parts are currently available on HBO on Demand. Even if you don't have HBO, I strongly suggest you go out of your way to see this gorgeously acted and produced miniseries.