Haynes’ superb five-part drama centres upon titular heroine and Glendale resident Mildred (Academy Award-winner Winslet) as she pieces her life together following the departure of husband Bert (Brían F. O’Byrne). Thrust into an unstable job market during the Great Depression, Mildred struggles to come to terms with the very real prospect of taking up a role unbefitting of her social status.
An impromptu role at a local cafe eventually leads her into the restaurant industry and the arms of thoroughbred dandy Monty Beragon (Pearce), yet heartbreak and circumstance quickly befall our protagonist, culminating in a destructive relationship with her wildly ambitious, persistently aloof daughter Veda (Morgan Turner/Wood).
Despite strong performances from an impeccable supporting class, Mildred Pierce was clearly envisioned by Haynes (and HBO executives) as a show piece for our very own Ms. Winslet – and who would blame them? Winslet commands our attention from beginning to end, alongside her for every spectacular accomplishment before plunging down to the depths of despair.
Yet despite the heroics of our lead protagonist, the minseries’ most intriguing personality is arguably the enigmatic Veda. Shifting between snivelling dependence and reptilian coldness seemingly at the drop of a hat, Mildred’s eldest is a constant thorn in her mother’s side, evolving into a siren-like creature leading those who love her to their untimely doom – as Mildred seeks redemption, Veda desires only separation.
Perfectly complementing proceedings is composer Carter Burwell’s magnificent period score, utilising recording methods and musical style of the 1930s-40s to breathtaking effect. The show’s main theme – drenched in a sense of melancholic beauty that will come to define the series as a whole – is easily one of the best of the year, and firmly places Burwell amongst the higher echelons of the composing world.
A slight drop in pace during the second and third chapters is perhaps a minor complaint, with the series as a whole representing some of the most addictive televisual drama you will see from either side of the Atlantic all year. With Mildred Pierce, Haynes has not only proved himself a master of period direction, Winslet an incomparable screen presence (event bettering Joan Crawford’s 1945 attempt at the role) and Cain one of the finest writers of his age, but also that TV can compete with the very best that Hollywood has to offer. A perfect partner piece with Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin for those looking to delve into the darker side of mother-child relations.