Nominated for a slew of Emmys, HBO's Mildred Pierce is based on a novel that opens in the midst of the Great Depression, and centers around a housewife's attempts to keep her daughters fed and make a name for herself.
Money is tight and Mildred (Kate Winslet) has been padding the grocery bill by making pies and cakes. But when she decides to kick her husband Bert (Brían F. O'Byrne) out of the house for cheating on her and go at it alone, she rapidly discovers the world is not kind to a single mother. Determined not to rely on the charity of her friends, or accept help from her father-in-law, Mildred swallows her pride and becomes a waitress -- much to the horror of her eldest daughter, Veda (Morgan Turner), who puts on airs in spite of their impoverished situation. Soon, her talent in the kitchen will open up a new world of prospects, so long as she can keep the men in her life from becoming too much of a problem. Among them is the fashionable and charismatic Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce), but their tumultuous romance combined with Mildred's desperate attempts to live up to her daughter's impossible standards will take them all down a desperate path.
Even though this miniseries boasts lovely period details and an impressive cast, I am not in love with it. This is due in part to the protagonists, few of whom I managed to like. Bert is the best thing this series has to offer and he's cheating on his wife! Mildred is a completely insecure woman who bends over backwards to try and "earn" the love of her utter wretch of a daughter, and only winds up being hurt... over and over again. At some point, the audience becomes frustrated with her and wishes she would move on. Monty is a total cad. On the up side, Mildred never lets her situation get so far out of hand that she cannot control it. She makes the best of multiple bad situations and in the end finds a bittersweet happiness (one the book did not offer). But the entire series lacks any redeeming value, so it becomes tedious entertainment, more inclined to painful turmoil than situations in which we find joy. When I put six hours into a film, I expect something in return and this one did not pay out.
The cast is wonderful. Winslet makes a fine Mildred. The older version of Vera, by Evan Rachel Wood, is fantastic, complimenting the younger actress in such a believable manner that you can accept this is the same girl, all grown up. (She also at times eerily reminds me of Vivien Leigh.) But one has to wonder if Guy Pearce felt used, since much of the time all he is required to do is love scenes or stalk about the house, drink, and brood. The content started out tame, but in episodes 2, 3, and 5 got graphic. There are implications of sexual affairs; some of which take place before Mildred's divorce. She has a graphic sex scene with Monty that includes nudity; elsewhere, both of them strip down and start making out; there's a graphic implication of oral sex. Veda prances around a bedroom in the final episode completely naked, for quite a long period of time. It's implied that she has slept with a boy with the intention of blackmailing him; elsewhere, she sleeps with one of her mother's boyfriends. Mildred winds up in bed with a man on the first date, and later takes on Monty's bills; he nastily makes a remark about being her "gigolo."
Violence includes characters being slapped across the face; a girl is strangled almost to death. We see her vomit afterward. One episode involves the death of a child. Many scenes find characters treating one another hatefully or fighting. Unlikable characters combined with blatant immorality and about two dozen abuses of God's name coupled with a profanity left me sorry that I bothered with this series at all. I'm grateful I had something else to do while it was playing in the background. It has no substance and the good cast doesn't make a miserable story worth your while.