WILL THE REAL MILDRED PIERCE PLEASE STAND UP?
Did you see the HBO miniseries entitled Mildred Pierce? Were you as mystified as I was that the real Mrs. Pierce never showed up? Kate Winslet, although a brilliant actress, did a disservice to Joan Crawford, the original Mildred, and to all women in general. In the 1945 film, Joan Crawford played the part to cinematic perfection with stoicism and pathos and courage. Her extraordinary face lit up the screen despite the adversity in her life. Her jaw jutted with determination. Her eyes searched the horizon for a better tomorrow. Her performance was flawlessly nuanced. The original film felt like a feminist manifesto: a woman can accomplish impossible things if she uses her talents and her wits and is willing to do the hard work.
Kate Winslet’s portrayal was dour and wimpy and pitiable. No doubt she trusted and obliged her director by following his artistic lead. She should have insisted on a more dignified heroine. Instead, she shows us a Mildred who is sex-crazed and objectified by men. She cannot extricate herself from the cruelty of her evil daughter. She leaves the management of her business to men, spends excessively on snobby Veda, pays for her lover’s lifestyle, and ultimately marries him for social status. Tell me: what Mildred is this?
In fairness, the original movie had many of those elements but they transformed Mildred into a stronger and more refined character; a woman to be admired.
I think HBO’s Mildred Pierce is a sign of the times. Gentility and decency are leaving us. They are being obliterated in the name of art. We are no longer permitted our own quiet thoughts and conclusions. Everything must be explicit. Everything must be graphic. The sex scenes in the HBO iteration were at best gratuitous, and at worse pornographic. The miniseries was laden with so many obvious directorial gimmicks that someone forgot to tell the story. It felt misogynistic to me. It felt like the director had all the power.
I know I am wrong here because Kate Winslet is being lauded for her performance, and HBO, no doubt, will garner many awards. Listen, I like HBO and all the entertainment it provides. I never missed an episode of Sex and the City or The Sopranos, as lurid as they often were. But they were not remakes of a classic film – a memorable treasure.
I adore Kate Winslet, too, especially in her triumphant roles in Revolutionary Road and The Reader. But her hangdog portrayal as Mildred disappointed me. Somehow HBO felt obliged to bring Mildred Pierce kicking and screaming into the 21st Century in a tawdry and salacious way.
I was riveted to HBO’s Mildred Pierce not because it was compelling viewing but because I was waiting for the real Mildred Pierce to please stand up. For herself — and for all women.