Mildred Pierce: HBO's New Captivating Version

HBO captivating Miniseries’  Mildred Pierce, starring Oscar winner Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) in the title role, brings to life the memorable character introduced in James M. Cain’s classic 1941 novel. 

The five-part drama offers an intimate portrait of a uniquely independent woman who finds herself newly divorced during the Depression years, as she struggles to carve out a new life for herself and her family.  The story explores Mildred’s unreasonable devotion to her insatiable daughter, Veda, as well as the complex relationships she shares with the indolent men in her life.

Debuting PART ONE and PART TWO on SUNDAY, MARCH 27 (9:00-11:05 p.m. ET/PT), the miniseries also stars Guy Pearce, James LeGros, Melissa Leo, Brían F. O’Byrne and Evan Rachel Wood.  Mare Winningham, Morgan Turner and Hope Davis co-star.  PART THREE debuts SUNDAY, APRIL 3 (9:00-10:15 p.m.); PART FOUR and PART FIVE debut SUNDAY, APRIL 10 (9:00-11:30 p.m.).

Director Todd Haynes first read the James M. Cain novel in late 2008 at the recommendation of his friend, screenwriter and novelist Jon Raymond. 

Written in 1941, Resonant Today

As Haynes immersed himself in the tale of a single mother during the Depression years, the world outside seemed to mirror Mildred’s plight as the financial markets suddenly tumbled, impacting political and cultural sectors globally.  The timing convinced Haynes that Mildred’s story would resonate with today’s viewers.

“Mildred Pierc is set during the Depression, but not the Depression of dustbowls and breadlines,” explains Haynes.  “The crises it explores are those of middle-class privilege – issues of pride and status, the struggle first to regain one’s standing and then to persevere through hard work and ingenuity.  This feels very much like the particular struggles of our current economic crisis, coming out of a period of unbridled consumption.”

Says executive producer and longtime Haynes collaborator Christine Vachon, “Cain’s novel attracted Todd and Jon because it felt so unbelievably relevant to today–a young woman who has to figure out how to support her family against all odds.  Coincidentally, Todd and I had seen the original 1945 Warner Brothers film together.”

Departure for Novelist James Cain

In its time, the novel “Mildred Pierce” was considered a departure for acclaimed author Cain, whose previous ‘30s works such as “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity” were hard-boiled, first-person crime dramas that became fodder for the film noir genre of the ‘40s.  Containing no murder or other criminal storyline, “Mildred Pierce” was unique in its depiction of ambitious and successful women in the work world, and bold in its sexual honesty and detail.         

Not About Domesticity or Repression

Explains Haynes, “Most domestic dramas inevitably concern female characters confronting social constraints, suburban repression and vulnerability.  ‘Mildred Pierce’ is an exception.”

Haynes appreciated the beauty and stylistic references of the original Michael Curtiz film, which brought Joan Crawford an Academy Award, but found himself more attracted to the unique relationship between mother and daughter spelled out so vividly in the novel, as well as the complexity of both characters.  What especially captured Haynes was the unique place Veda occupies in Mildred’s life, which to him seemed almost more akin to a tragic story of unrequited love.

Instead of Men, it’s the Daughter        

“Where men and love objects should reside in Mildred’s life, her daughter, Veda, exists.  Mildred’s whole relationship with men is completely unique and atypical of her time,” he notes.

Haynes asked Raymond to join him in adapting the novel into a script and the two set out to make a film that embodied Cain’s literary vision, without the murder plot that sensationalized the original film.  Seventy years after “Mildred Pierce” was written, HBO Miniseries brings the novel to the screen.

Mirroring the novel’s emphasis on the women in the story, Haynes and co-writer Raymond chose to highlight the strength and ambition of Mildred and her daughter, showing them as active, productive and powerful forces of nature.

Explains Haynes, “Emotional dynamics are still the central conflict, but they get externalized and played out through work and productivity, and issues of money and class come into play in almost every relationship in the story.”

Iconic Joan Crawford

Having seen the original film in his college days, Haynes wanted to approach the book from a fresh perspective, without the iconic image of Joan Crawford in his mind.

Writing Script with Kate Winslet in Mind

“For some reason, I pictured Kate Winslet when I first started to read the book,” recalls Haynes.  “I had never met Kate.  I hadn’t worked with her before.  And I could not get her out of my mind while I was reading.  It just felt so innately right and so constitutionally correct that this was the only actress I could see playing this part.  Kate became sort of the propelling force while we were writing it and starting to visualize the piece for long-form.”

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