Ever since HBO announced their epic five-part miniseries event, Mildred Pierce, the inevitable comparisons to the original 1945 Joan Crawford classic began. Both adaptations offer a unique perspective on a rather remarkable character. What some may not realize is the film version is actually quite different from the novel, whereas the miniseries remained faithful to the written word.
Like any film lover, I’m going to look at how both versions take the viewer on a similar, yet remarkably different journey into the Great Depression, family struggles, greed, envy, strength, and what it means to stand tall as a woman under immense pressure.
Setting: Though both adaptations of the classic novel highlighted the struggles of a single mother during the Great Depression, the film version was lighter in a way, almost glamorizing Mildred’s stint as a waitress and subsequent move into the restaurant business. The film, shot in noir fashion, was unquestionably flashy. The miniseries, however, showed the time for what it was: dark, stressful, sad, and uncertain. Mildred’s move into restaurant ownership was exceptional—from her shopping for goods to the restaurant itself, everything felt real. Bottom Line: The film is Hollywood glamour; the miniseries is gritty.
Pace: Much has been made about the slow pacing of the miniseries. Undoubtedly, this comes from the familiarity with the incredibly quick pace of the original film. Again, this comes down to two different styles. The miniseries spans ten years of Mildred’s life. Bottom Line: The miniseries is extremely detail-oriented. The film moves like a film—fast, yet effective.
Sex: This is HBO—you have to expect sex and nudity. If you are expecting a “clean” rendition of the original film, you are not going to get it. The film merely alluded to “making love,” but the miniseries does the whole show-and-tell bit--fair warning for you.
Music: The music in both versions can only be described as refreshing, but in tonight’s final two installments, the music comes to the forefront. The vocals displayed were truly breathtaking, even soul-stirring.
Ending: As you may recall, the film involves a classic murder whodunit. Not so with the miniseries. Like the novel, there is no murder. Instead, you have classic betrayal, deceit, and emotional pain. It's a fascinating contrast to the original thriller version of Mildred Pierce.
Mildred: Both versions present an immeasurably strong, determined woman amidst many obstacles and unforeseen tragedy. Mildred desperately yearned for Veda’s approval, yet always failed to gain. Oddly, I found miniseries-Mildred less of a victim than in the film. For example, when Joan Crawford slaps her eldest daughter, Veda, she famously says she would rather cut off her hand than strike her child. When miniseries-Mildred does the same, she does so more than once without apology. It was delicious to witness the growth of a less-than-perfect Mildred versus her increasingly sinister daughter.
Veda: In the film, Veda moves like a shark, smoothly coursing through the water, searching for her next victim. Though she is the same in the miniseries, I found her a little less icy and a little more emotional…until the very end. In the scene where Mildred discovers Veda and Monty together, Veda was completely devoid of human emotion.
Monty: I felt both versions were actually very similar. Miniseries-Monty seemed a little slimier than in the film, however.
Wally: From the boisterous salesman-type in the original film, you get a dull, stinky, wet rat in the miniseries, which fit fantastically well for the end sequence. You instantly knew not to trust the film-Wally; but this miniseries-Wally was almost pathetic and unassuming, until he unveiled his sneaky rat self.
Bert: Steady, solid Bert. Both versions portrayed a flawed, yet soulful man.
Overall: Though I will always love the original film, I found the new adaptation beautifully detailed and seamlessly acted. Kate Winslet was flawlessly understated as Mildred, while Evan Rachel Wood made a brilliantly devilish Veda. Tonight, as the curtain closed on the HBO miniseries event, I felt like I had been on a journey back in time to witness the life of Mildred Pierce.
If you watched, what did you think of Mildred Pierce?