'Mildred Pierce' review: Kate Winslet's Mildred craves love. Did she get it from TV viewers?

The Mildred Pierce who was created by James M. Cain in his 1941 novel was an ambitious lower-middle-class woman whose husband left her, whose daughter Veda felt contempt for her, and who, via hard work, guts, and instinct, became successful but still craved love. The Mildred Pierce who was played by Joan Crawford in the 1945 movie, was a tough dame involved in a murder mystery — who killed high-society gigolo Monty Beragon? The Mildred Pierce in the five-part miniseries that began on HBO on Sunday night is a sensitive, wounded sparrow who can bake a pie like nobody’s business — so she starts her own. She’s got a daughter who will eventually (not this week) turn into an Evan Rachel Wood in a constant, very foul mood. This new Mildred will suffer, know romance and lose it, achieve success and lose most of it, and continue to crave the love from her daughter, but (and this is part of the suspense in this least hard-boiled of hard-boiled stories) will she get it?

The HBO Mildred Pierce is an example of beautifully heightened realism — director Todd Haynes has reinserted the Depression-era trappings that director Michael Curtiz assiduously excised from the Crawford film — with a performance by Kate Winslet that raises soap opera a bit closer to art.

These early hours of Mildred Pierce are the best ones, I think. I loved watching all the precise details Haynes presented: About how an abandoned wife and mother was treated in those days; how such a woman would look for a job and what she’d settle for; how she makes friends with other women (Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham, both so wonderfully low-key yet vehement); how she had to apply brute force of will to the task of sweet-talking men into letting her start her own business. The color palette of the production — soft yellows, browns, and greens — frequently makes the movie seem like an urgent dream.

Joan Crawford won an Oscar for her version of Mildred. I’ll bet Winslet will win an Emmy for hers. That’s not because the new Mildred Pierce is truly great, but rather that Haynes knew HBO, not a movie studio, was the place to take the languid melodrama he wanted to unfurl, that Winslet knew the small screen was the place to go a bit dowdy (in the first hours, at least), and that HBO is one of the only places left making expensive-looking TV miniseries: The network, in this area, is an awards-generating machine, because it’s just about the only such machine left in the industry.

All of which isn’t to say that Mildred Pierce isn’t worth watching for all five of its installments. It’s just that, if you tuned in this week to see Wood go nude or to watch a great love story between Winslet and Guy Pearce as rich-man/spoiled-boy Monty, you didn’t get what you wanted this week. You got something else. Something better.

But did you like what you saw?

Twitter: @kentucker


Comments (194 total) Add your comment
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  • LOL

    Can’t afford HBO since were in another Depression thanks to Bush-Cheney, Inc. Hope Mildred makes out better than us.

    • Barack Palin

      I think you mean Obama and his ilk. We’ll make out better once America votes the communist out of office. 2012 can’t come soon enough.

      • sckofrtwngcrp

        The Great Recession was created by W. Bush and the Repug Congress, it began in 2007. If you were informed you would know this, also while you are at it look up the word “communism” . I bet you don’t even know what it means idiot.

      • Sarah Obama

        No, people became poor before Obama came along. We’ll make out better once the stench of the Bush-Cheney era is gone for good.

      • Kenji

        Laugh of the day. And at your own expense, too!

      • john_c

        Obama makes us even poorer despite what he promised to do!!!

        He promised to end the Iraq war but he is dragging us into another war with Lybia and the US does not even get oil from Lybia. What a failure!!

      • filmboymichael

        wow…watching from canada it’s amazing how ignorance still runs rampant in the states…if you thinkobama got you to where you are today you are sorely mistaken.

      • muhahaha

        right, because canada is *awesome*.

      • Tonic

        Actually, Canada IS awesome.

      • David

        What reidculous comments made by ill-informed people. Barack is not a communist; USA may very well not get oil from Libya (how interesting you link all USA conflict formally with Oil – your leaders fail to do so). You made yourselves the worlds police, so tough, and welcome to Libya!

      • Desmond’s constant

        Well, the Barack part of your name led me to believe that you may be intelligent, however, the Palin part leaves no room for doubt that you are a complete and utter moron. Obviously you’ve been brainwashed by all the spurious talk at your weekly teabaggers meeting. You are hopeless.

      • CyberPimp

        @sckofrtwngcrp – wow, I guess you missed the fact that the libs controlled Congress from 2006 all the way til last year and were indeed the catalyst of the great recession. Oh, but this doesnt fit your world view, so go back to your Obama kool-aid…

      • Mary

        The President doesn’t creat a depression. Problems with the economy began in March 2000. The stock market began to go down and the tech buble burst. The problems with the housing market occurred because people who could not afford mortgages were getting them and these homes were eventually foreclosed upon. Part of the problem lies with Congress for demanding that lenders lower the requirements for mortgages so that more people could afford homes. Another part of the problem was the lenders that took advantage of this to award loans to anyone to make a quick buck and the last part of the problem is the people who signed on for the mortgages. While the payments were initially low, the payments grew to a rate that the homeowner could not afford. The payment plans were outlined in these mortgages (I know first hand, I almost signed on to one of these. I saw the payment schedule a few years down the road and had all the paperwork shredded in the mortgage broker’s office.) It’s about personal responsibility. If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it.

      • RufusSondheim

        There is fault everywhere. Get rid of your ignorance by watching Inside Job, the oscar winning doc from this year. And don’t end there, do your own research too.

      • Timmzers

        I’m just amazed that a country as diverse as ours can have citizens so myopic and ignorant as Barack Palin. Please, as Rufus said, those responsible for the SIZE (hey, the economy in a free market is always going to be cyclical, but should never have gotten this out-of-had) of this economic downturn are on both sides of the aisle. To single out Obama just reeks of ignorance.

        Oh yeah, I enjoyed “Mildred Pierce.” lol

      • Timmzers

        –er–“out of hand.” My bad.

      • Carla

        Barack Palin, you forget that our current president inherited the mess that Bush/Cheney left for the whole country to clean up.

      • evie

        You are an idiot, it started with Bush and Cheney. I think that you are probably the communist.

      • AJ

        You are a complete uninformed idiot. Watch FauxNooze much? Paid for my the “pale, male, stale” wing nut party.

        Bush/Cheney caused the collapse of the economy. Didn’t your alien leaders teach you that before they dropped you off here on Earth?

        Why bother. I’d have a better chance of having an intelligent conversation with a farm animal.

        Go back to your Kool Aid drinking. And your bigotry. And your fantasy centerfolds of the grifter, quitter “dumbstupid” $arah Pee.

        Brain bleach.

    • Roy

      To Ken Tucker,

      You miserable SOB, why all the spoilers without a warning?!?

      • Uh yeah

        @Roy. STOP. READING. EW. If you don’t want to get information on the TV episodes. YOU IDIOT!!

      • Anne

        When I saw he mentioned who died, I figured it would (kind of rightly) bother people here. I think he didn’t couch it with a Spoiler! was bc the 1945 movie begins with the murder. This one is more linear so we haven’t gotten to the murder yet. I feel bad you were spoiled though

      • Shelle

        Sorry, what spoiler? Ken wrote that the 1945 Joan Crawford movie was a whodunnit murder mystery. He didn’t say this happens in the mini-series. To my knowledge, that was never in the book, and this mini-series is faithful to the book. So, no spoiler.

      • Mike

        Spoiler?? The story is about 60 years old hahah ! Hey, the Titanic sunk and Gwenyth Paltrow’s head is in the box !!

      • Gary Taphouse

        Love me a slice of her pie.

    • Michael

      I can sympathize. However, Mildred’s plight will appear hopeful and pleasant compared to what we’re facing if this President completes his “fundamental transformation” of America.

      • Timmzers

        What a sad person you are.

    • DVeron

      Sadly, Obama has made things so much worse. Everyone hoped for better. There is too much spending in Washington. This is a tremendous amount of the problem.

    • Stupid Trolls

      Good lord, must every article on every website devolve into a political debate?

      • SAM

        Thank you!

      • andy

        I’ll vote for you. lol

      • Timmzers

        Good point. I’m going to stop responding. This IS, after all, an entertainment site. I apologize. ;-)

    • kellybelly

      It’s well acted, but rather dull, slow and boring. I’m not sure what made anyone think that this warranted a 5-part mini-series, but so far I feel that just seeing the Joan Crawford movie would be enough. That was a good movie.
      While I admire Todd Haynes cinematic flair and attention to detail, that is pretty much all I’m admiring about this “Mildred Pierce”

      • Nina

        I agree, Kellybelly. Winslet is great and I’m anxious to see Evan Rachel Wood, but stretching this to 5 parts is pushing it. The pacing is too slow.

      • mel

        @Kellybelly – I completely disagree with you. I was entranced for the first two hours and enjoyed the slow pace and buildup of the story, much like I enjoy my sex.

      • laura

        I agree-this Mildred Pierce misses. I have lost interest. Kate Winslt is always great but in this role, as Mildred, she looks confused- who is she -poor dumped wife, sleeping with losers for no apparent reason and with a whining dissatisfied daughter or a strong confident sexy business woman. Mildred, if you can run a first class restaurant you can tell Veda that she is a first class bitch. And what is with the actress playing Veda-I am sorry but I have daughters and know their friends(some from Pasadena) and no girl talks like that..dahling-it is too too cartoonish.. I thing the problem is the dialogue. It sounds stilted and unnatural. As to all the new details, they really are not material to the story. They shed no insight into anyone characters. The original film told the story with more suspense and drama and better editing (so we didn’t see Joan Crawford naked humping Monty–it was obviously happening). But I do love Melissa Leo.

      • film fan

        Too slow, too long? I have to disagree — if you want short, go to the standard 110-minute movie. There HAS to be a place where we can watch life, character & plot unfold w/o relying on just hitting the hard beats. You cld think of this series as literature, as opposed to so much of the “pulp fiction” movies that are out there. It is SO difficult to get something made that requires brains from the makers and from the audiences – the film industry dumbs down & shortens virtually all its films becuase the audience demands it. And here you are — demanding the same, by criticizing the pace & length. I, for one, absolutely revelled in the production quality, the sets & costumes, the acting, the CARE given to EVERY scene. Phenomenal! Not to mention the gorgeous Mr. Pearce, who is coming on as one of the great male leads.
        You want fast? Go to 100-minute shoot-‘em-up. Those that prefer otherwise can watch Mildred Pierce. Wld Americans know quality if served on a platter? Plz stop demanding that all the popular culture be vapid, quick & vulgur.

    • Jan

      Bush and Cheney’s friends are mega-wealthy and can afford anything. On the backs of the rest of us.

      • Holly Johnson

        Laura, you hit it right on. I have a hard time feeling sympathetic toward Winslet’s Mildred. There is something in the original with the insinuated sex that gave Crawford’s character more dimension and strength. Have to say though that I would love a kitchen like the one in the remake.

    • andy

      I heard that.

    • amy

      The building blocks for this recession were put into place by Reagan. And every president thereafter contributed, even Obama.

    • Lala

      You are all stupid and/or naive if you think that the President has much control over the economy. And WAKE UP! Bush was a crap President; Obama is a crap President. They both have driven and are driving this country into the ground.

  • Sean

    I just watched Parts 1&2 and I was more impressed with Mere winningham than Winslet’s performance.

    • Joe

      It’s a shame I had to scroll down half the page before I got to the comments that actually respond to the review. Thanks for getting us back on track!

      • EVONDA

        I totally agree Joe…I thought it was gonna be a total string lost to another long winded useless debate..

  • Ryan

    I would bet anything Winslet signed up for this to get the Emmy in her EGOT. Only the Tony to get after that, so I will not be surprised if she shows up on Broadway next year!

    • Sydney

      I TOTALLY thought that when I saw she had signed on for a mini series on HBO…Emmy gold!

    • stella

      ME TOO! twenty bucks that she’s going on broadway next

    • May

      I immediately thought of that too! Lol.

    • Jelana

      I was thinking too that her agent pitched this to her as “would you like to win an Emmy?”

  • Adam

    They may as well inscribe Kate Winslet’s name on the Emmy right now. The Emmy voters love it when a top notch movie star (an Oscar winner to boot) heads for television. Not to mention that Winslet is fantastic in just about everything, as well as HBO always being a prominent force at the Emmys. An Emmy for her performance in Mildred Pierce will get Winslet 3/4 of the way towards her EGOT. Someone give her a role on Broadway.

    • n

      Ok, what did I miss? When did Kate get a Grammy??????

      • D

        Haahha agreed! Googling the Winslet Grammy now…

        In 2000, Winslet won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for ‘Listen To the Storyteller.’

        There it is.

      • n

        Nevermind, Wiki helped me out. I guess she received a Grammy for ‘spoken word album for a children’s book.’ Just in case anyone else was wondering. And let’s get real, Kate would KILL on Broadway.

    • Q

      I agree, Adam. The moment I heard that Kate was doing this miniseries, I figured she’d end up winning an Emmy for it.

    • john_c

      Tracy Morgan got EGOT before Kate!!

      • Kenji

        Oscar? For what?

      • Marjanne

        @Kenji–oh please.

      • Bette

        No. Whoopi got EGOT !

  • Jackie

    Great performance by Kate Winslet

  • Adrienne

    I was really psyched to watch this tonite, and I am surprised to find myself somewhat disappointed in it but not sure why. Thought Kate Winslet was good but not over the top fantastic or amazing. And hated the way they ended it tonite.

    • KatherineM

      I have always liked Kate Winslet, but speaking as a woman holding down a family on my own, “less would have meant more” for me in my viewing of her performance last night. I presume her theatrical constant heavy sighs, dramatic frowns, and overwrought emotions were designed to hit me (the ‘stupid viewer’) over the head with the sledgehammer that “the single mother is tired and life for her is difficult”. But I was so distracted by Winslow, THE ACTRESS, that I could not sink into her character or the story, in fact at points I just started to laugh at the soap-opera type overacting. I haven’t met a single mom yet who has that much energy (or self-absorbtion) to over-emote so constantly and egregiously.

      • Cal

        if you think Winslet overacted try watching the Crawford movie….Joan looked like an actress in an old silent movie.

      • EVONDA

        I think in fact this was Mildred Pierce. In reading the books , she comes across very overly dramatic . She makes you feel she is almost living vicariously thru Veta~ and Veta is also very charasimatic for lack of better words. I find myself getting very angry at the way she just continues to let Veta speak to her the way she does and continually pretty much ruin her life all for the small token of feeling that she herself accomplished something on a grander scale by being Veta’s mother

    • Dgently

      @Adrienne. I was also a little “underwelmed” by this show, and I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s because of the points Katherine is making?

      • Jam

        I tend to think it’s because we don’t know what the point was at the end – was she strong, or weak? Look at all she did, then lost, for a resolution that felt really quiet and not helpful.

        And every episode you hope she’ll change or wake up – but she never does.

  • liz matthews

    Really enjoyed parts one and two. Kate Winslet was excellent, the child actresses were too. The costumes and the sets are PERFECT in every detail. Could have lived without the obligatory “Its Cable” nude sex scene. In fact I could have let my kids watch it with me if not for the one scene they are just too young for. We could get the idea without seeing everything. We’ve seen it so many times and guess what, it’s not all that different, even with an Oscar winner showing it!

    • Renaton

      Oh, I hate when Kate goes nude to winnie awards. The topless nazi who can’t read strikes again…

      • Renaton

        *win awards, stupid cellphone

    • Moonbeam

      Agree: the sex scene went too far and was actually tedious. Seemed too obligatory and overly choreographed. I watched it with an 80 year old male friend of mine, and he was just as bored with it. We were anxious to return to the plot and get that boring scene over with.

    • Dinjab

      People are often naked when they have sex…omg! Without nudity, this isn’t a story for kids.

  • Muriel

    Excellent performances. I loved the colors and the sets. Looking forward to the rest of it. I just couldn’t figure out why tonight was parts 1 and 2 instead of just part 1, but whatever. I’ll keep watching.

  • Lynn E

    Ughh! It was so bad. Everything was so stretched out and spelled out like the audience were retards and didn’t understand the great depression. And the main story of an overly indulgent mother and an insufferable daughter she is constantly trying to please is lost. A dog!

    • sbb3d

      My reaction wasn’t as strong as yours, but I was still really unimpressed. They somehow managed to achieve less with more screen time.

    • Marcy Mac

      Loved it!A step back in time and hard times. wonderful detail.I remember the original joan crawford and she had a harder edge than winslet.my empathy for winselt characterization came and went.

      • Kenji

        I agree. We needed every moment to take in all that detail, as well as the realistic (if wonderfully soapy) view of how a woman had to fight for survival back then.

    • Jam

      Except that I don’t think the story kept up with Mildred’s struggle in a man’s world – it all seemed to go back to her clueless, needy clinging to her daughter who was AWFUL to her.

      And really – SPOILER – she ultimately didn’t make it in a man’s world. She lost almost everything and wound up back where she started. Exactly.

  • Ashley

    Loved it! Everyone was amazing in it, and the end was very moving.

  • Mildred

    Wow, so am I to surmise from Ken’s review that Monty is killed at some point in this? Because if that’s the case, ADD A SPOILER ALERT, KEN!

    • Aaron

      I’m 99% positive that the director Todd Haynes axed the murder-mystery subplot in this version. So no dead people (as far as I know).

    • Armand

      Spoilers? The book and the movie have been around forever!!!!!!!!!!

    • Zoe

      Read the excellent Newsweek review/article by Stephen King about the miniseries. He explained that the 1945 movie excised part of the ending of the book because it was too racy for the time). To replace the missing storyline, they added the murder-mystery storyline that was NOT in the book. This new miniseries hews closer to the book and has the original story. But even if it had the murder, I don’t think revealing a plot point from a 1945 movie is really a spoiler! :-)

  • Tiffany

    Not sure this needed to be a mini-series…although I did like it’s artistic bent a window into a world so different from ours today (ie. the cost of foods at the store, being able to find a job by walking streets looking for signs in windows, etc.) I did find that it could’ve been in movie form and time. Just saw the original last night on TCM essentials and loved it! Hard not to make comparisons now after Joan Crawford’s performance…what a powerhouse!!! Will continue watching this version though. Very interested to see where they take us. And I must include that you don’t get much better than this cast… Kudos!

  • Zach

    Joan Crawford played that original part tough-as-nails. It was a bold performance from a woman at the time, even though Crawford later became associated with that character trait in her personal life. Kate Winslet, on the other hand, is never less than fascinating, but if the original story and/or Haynes’s adaptation portrays a character that is less Crawford in her heyday and more Winslet yet another 1950s melodramas, then yes, by all means give her the Emmy, but don’t expect that many people to be quite so impressed. Frankly, what’s Cate Blanchett been up to lately?

    And when will Julianne Moore’s Sarah Palin movie be finished? If done right and done well (and I have every reason to think so), that seems Emmy-baity. And who wouldn’t love to see Moore, one of Hollywood’s most tireless actors into her 50s, finally win a major industry award?

    • Zach

      Jumped the gun there a bit! Meant to say that it feels like Winslet is starting to stereotype herself in these maudlin, static character dramas (think Revolutionary Road). An actress of such talent, poise, and appeal should be willing and able to play against type more often. If she continues on this path, she’ll be at the mercy of her scripts.

  • Cori

    Great, It was great even that was not complete, is better than many movies on the big screen long time is been for me to spend with a great movie miniseries or what you want to call and Kate was perfect, she is so prety and she is transfome in a mom from that hard time her love for the kids al so real she was the real Mildred Pierce,Thank you HBO to bring movie for real women’s and bravo Kate I cut not believed you great work in this movie well done. many women’s this days are going true the same problems even with a career.

  • P S

    YAWN! I don’t think Winslet can touch Crawford!

    • Nothing Can Keep Us Together

      BOOOO get on the next bus to haterville fool. kate was in the best movie of all time titanic she has earned her keep. i hate stuck up bitches who think that actors today can’t hold a candle to the golden age. and yet you all idolize very untalented fools from the era like monroe etc. give me a break snob

      • Dgently

        Wow, Nothinng. You’re a real class act.

      • Moonbeam

        Agree: I think some of the acting of the “golden age” is very stilted and the sets ridiculously phony in many films. I have trouble watching Crawford in anything after knowing what kind of a person she was to her children. Some of those older actresses were large than life and beautiful, as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, but most probably not have competed with a Meryl Streep, Jill Clayburgh or Maggie Stewart (or a Kate Winslet) on sheer acting talent in today’s market.

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