Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mildred Pierce (2011) - Tearjerking Melodrama or just Bad Parenting? Guest Blog Entry by Big Sister

Mildred Pierce 2011 HBO series starring Kate Winslet
5 part HBO Miniseries starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood;  written and directed by Todd Haynes
Hey, everyone, this is Jenny's Big Sister writing - I was asked by Jenny to cover this "period drama" not because of any special expertise or fondness for this material, but because she doesn't have HBO at her house and I do.  Not that I mind being asked my opinion (I can usually be counted on to give my opinion quite freely) - so I set up the DVR for last Sunday night.  However, family schedules being what they are (my kids and I have a standing Sunday night date to watch "The Amazing Race"), I didn't get to watch it until Tuesday evening.  And even then, I ended up watching it immediately following an episode of "Supernanny" ... which was more pertinent than I could have imagined!  So here goes ...
Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce
“Mildred Pierce” is based on the Depression-era novel by James M. Cain (written in 1941).  It was made into a classic film melodrama  in 1945 starring Joan Crawford, but has not been presented since then.  When Todd Haynes, the director of the HBO production, read the original James M. Cain novel, he realized that the themes of economic hard times and class would be of relevance in today’s economic reality.  The original film version was made in the time of the Production Code (Hay’s Code) which governed morality in film from 1934 – the early 1960’s;  thus, the 1945 version was structured more like a traditional murder mystery/film noir with less of an emphasis on the sexuality.  In the current version it’s very “HBO” – so send the kids to bed and hunker down for the no-holds-barred version of Mildred Pierce!  

Poster for the original 1945 version of Mildred Pierce starring Joan Crawford
(Before I go any farther, I have a confession:  I haven't read the novel, and I haven't seen the classic Joan Crawford film.  Which, considering that I was an English Literature major with a minor in Cinema Studies is fairly shameful ... however, I did watch these episodes, so that's what I'll talk about.  And living in Toronto, Canada we even had a restaurant here called Mildred Pierce - haven't been there either!  Clearly I have some catching up to do ... )

Kate Winslet as Mildred waitressing
1931.  Glendale, California.  Kate Winslet plays the title character, Mildred Pierce, whose unemployed husband Bert (Bryan F. O'Byrne) is cheating on her.  In the first scene, we see the end of their marriage when she reveals that she’s well aware of his mistress and throws him out of the house.  This leaves her with two daughters to provide for in the early years of the Great Depression.  Mildred is determined that her two daughters don’t suffer the economic effects of the Depression, and sets to work – first, baking pies and cakes; then, working as a waitress, and finally opening her own restaurant.  I found myself admiring Mildred’s drive and business acumen, but at the same time I wanted to shake her for not keeping a tighter rein on her daughter, Veda (played as a young girl by Morgan Turner).  As Mildred begins to find her way as a single mother (or “grass widow” as her neighbour Helen (Melissa Leo) puts it – and I had to look up a definition of that term ... basically, a loose woman who receives the company of different men), and breadwinner.  This challenge of providing for herself and her daughters really puts Mildred’s idea of herself and her middle class existence to the test.  At first, she sees herself as being “above” certain types of work, but eventually she has to swallow her pride in order to make a living during tough economic times.  However, she apparently has instilled in her daughters (especially Veda) a real sense of class hierarchy which, in Veda, comes off as nasty brattiness - hence, the Supernanny reference from earlier on.  I kept wishing that Mildred (or Supernanny!) would just put Veda on the "naughty chair" and regain control of the situation.  Since this is the driver of the (melo)drama, however, we are forced to watch the results of poor parenting on a "bad seed" child!  Yikes!

Guy Pearce as Monty Beregon
This notion of class is one that is often explored in British historical dramas (even not-so-historical dramas), but is seldom addressed as vividly in American dramas as it is portrayed in Mildred Pierce.  Because I don’t want to give too much away with spoilers, I’ll just say that – in typical melodramatic fashion – the sensuality that Mildred explores through her actions in Episode 2 when she takes up with the playboy Monty Beregon (Guy Pearce), is punished through tragedy before the end of the episode.

Evan Rachael Wood as the adult Veda
In the later episodes, the adult Veda will be portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood - I can't wait to see the fireworks between her and Kate Winslet as Veda and Mildred work out their very dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship.  Happy viewing, everyone.

Mildred Pierce (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)Mildred Pierce (Keepcase)


  1. "I’ll just say that – in typical melodramatic fashion – the sensuality that Mildred explores through her actions in Episode 2 when she takes up with the playboy Monty Beregon (Guy Pearce), is punished through tragedy before the end of the episode."

    I don't agree with you. I don't believe that Mildred was punished for indulging in her sensuality. I believe she was "punished" for her poor parenting when it came to Veda, her blindness about Veda's character and her own narcissim in projecting her desires and beliefs upon Veda.

  2. This movie should of stayed in the grave, old things just cannot or need to be renewed!




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