Has everyone been watching Mildred Pierce on HBO? Three one hour episodes have aired (Sunday nights at 9pm) and I have watched and re-watched them all with great trepidation. From the opening notes of the dreamy, dirge-like score, to the meticulous casting and attention to period detail (Los Angeles, circa 1920's and 30's), it is another HBO masterwork. But it is also dark, depressing and humorless. Even the obligatory HBO sex scenes are perilous and filled with dread. Unlike the original, for which Joan Crawford won a Best Actress Oscar, this version is more horror show than melodrama.
Plenty of spoilers to follow, so if you have not watched yet, you may want to come back later. Going into the series, I had hoped that they'd give it a modernist sensibility, and at least let us feel some satisfaction for Mildred's empire restaurant building career. For a woman to become an entrepreneur in the early part of the 20th Century was an astonishing achievement. But the focus is entirely on the misery of Mildred's life. The awful cheating ex-husband...the death of a darling child...the rotten deadbeat loaf of a boyfriend (Guy Pearce-playing an upper crust n'er do well wonderfully, once again). All of the elements of Mildred's life drain the joy from her accomplishments, and the color from actress Kate Winslet's face, as she looks alarmingly pale and exhausted in nearly every scene. No trauma in poor Mildred's life can compare to the horror of her psychopathic daughter Veda. I am actually terrified of young Veda (Morgan Turner), although she brings a prickly sense of electricity to every scene she's in. She is a relentless villain, devious and mean as a snake. Mildred, working herself to death in her new chicken and waffle restaurant, is blind to it all. This is the ultimate tale of mother guilt and devotion.
Don't watch Mildred Pierce if you've had a bad day, as it is darker than the inside of a Taliban chief's heart. Do watch it if you crave excellent television where every scene looks like an Edward Hopper painting. Warning: this mini-series will make you crave home made pie.