Like many film school graduates, I know the name Mildred Pierce because of the 1945 screen adaptation of Joseph M. Cain’s novel, starring Joan Crawford. Understanding the film’s place in cinema history, as post-war melodrama and pulp indulgence, I never expected to encounter the story again. Leave it to Todd Haynes and HBO, to make you reconsider your expectations. Haynes has adapted the original novel into a five-part HBO miniseries, with Kate Winslet in the title role. The first two parts premiered Sunday night, and I feel the need to refrain from any opinions until all five parts conclude. However, it is worth saying that Haynes’ Mildred Pierce has afforded HBO one of its most anticipated miniseries events this side of Tom Hanks. For those of us who have seen the relatively slight 1945 version, this feels a bit surprising. Speaking with Marshall Fine, Haynes touches on how his version strives to be different, and therefore, necessary:
Haynes’ take on Cain’s novel is faithful to the book, which makes it a departure from the 1945 film version, in which Joan Crawford was directed in the title role by Michael Curtiz.
“I admire the original as a beautiful piece of Hollywood product,” Haynes says of the 1945 film, which departed significantly from Cain’s plot. “But it’s not a film which, as filmmaking, I’d want to repeat. In reading the book and getting to know the material that was excised from the film, it made me want to do it and make it relevant to today. To me, it’s about a woman wanting to maintain her middle-class life at all costs, being resourceful while maintaining her relationship with her daughter. It’s not like I wanted to do this through the glaze of 1930s style and manners.”