That Depression was a bit glam, wasn’t it? Lovely sun drenched streets and acres of leisure time; the kind that implores you to pop into a cafe for a ham sandwich, glass of milk and a job. Just like that: gainful employment as a waitress on 25c an hour plus tips. Truly America is the land of opportunity when times are tough but tender are the hearts.
Not a bit like our slump: here we had a land of ricketts and ribcages, where a last lonely tooth would cling heroically to its gum and dream of earning a crust. In short the British depression left us practically tooth-free while America’s was merely toothsome. And such was the case In HBO’s Mildred Pierce mini-series.
There’s a special talent that turns suffering into an art form and Kate Winsome is so gorgeously and vulnerably Winslet that playing Mildred in 1930s LA is about as much of a stretch as a burglar with kids might expect from a judge who’s big on human rights.
Now our Kate is an A-list film star, which means that there’s always the danger of a casting imbalance in a TV production, no matter how expensively staged it is. No fear of that here: she’s brought zero baggage to the role – something that I like to put down to it being lost on the Titanic.
So who or what is Mildred Pierce? Well she’s Joan Crawford, or was until Ms Winsome came along and the “what” was the 1945 film of the same name (I refuse to get all eponymous on yo’ ass) and now this five part HBO jobbie. It’s about a dutiful wife, loving mother and weapons grade home economist whose husband, Bert (Brian F O’Byrne), ups and leaves for a life less Mildred and a little more Maggie Beiderhof.
Given the titillation-stretching antics of recent US cable productions (yes, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, it’s your bits and bobs waving about every five minutes that frightened the horses) I was expecting things to get a bit racy, or “fast” in contemporary parlance. In the event, the closest we got was soft-focus food porn over the opening credits, a bravura sequence that managed more money shots than you see in 12 months of Waitrose Food Illustrated. Ah yes, there’s also a chap, Wally Burgan (James le Gros) getting steamed up about Mildred’s apron strings (I think there’s supposed to be a metaphor in there somewhere) when he finds that she’s a grass widow.
Thus apron-string chap assumes the mantle of action man to Mildred’s ready-to-lay lawn status. Disappointingly, although he has realistic hair (I think so anyway, Burgan keeps it under his hat throughout) and is deffo a man, action is not really the Wally forte; unless you count his decisive way with a cigarette. Whether lighting it, flicking away the spent butt (in the kitchen, mind) or waving it over a dainty pink ashtray perched on his post coital tummy, Burgan is a one man war zone with the smokes.
Mildred’s best buddy is Lucy (Melissa Leo) a slightly older neighbour who’s full of help and hugs and sound advice (think Radiant Donna, ex of Holby, with the soundness of her advice dialled up to being actually audible). She it is who educates our heroine about life as a meadow matron and persuades her to, y’know, get a job because the alternative, starving – albeit with pleasing chiaroscuro effects -would not get us to the second episode.
There’s also the question of two daughters to feed; the elder of whom, Veda, has the sort of precocity that makes you want to aim sly kicks on a semi-regular basis, while the younger is all sweetness and cupcakes.
So here we are. Mildred is husband free and in desperate need of an income (there’s no Child Support Agency in her world so Bert can shack up with Maggie Beiderhof without a care). But Mildred has standards: by the time the ham sandwich gig comes knocking she’s already turned down something like 482 job opportunities; a little willful even during the grooviness of an LA depression, you’d have thought.
Never mind, she’s working now. Pride restored and children fed. Result? Apparently not. Mildred’s ashamed of being a waitress in a tight uniform (it’s a Betty’s Tea Room with added groping) and is last seen being comforted by Lucy in the shower. Which is not what you think.
Reasons to watch? Well it all looks good, the story is powerful and the music is sublime (Mood Indigo and Cab Calloway come to mind). Then there’s Kate: after a shaky start where I didn’t quite believe, she takes to depression chic like milk to her glass, printed cotton shift and all. I have the feeling there’s more sufferin’ to be done and I’ll be there to lend Mildred a hand.
Next week: Lordy lord, Guy Pearce, cheek bones sharper than a shiny suit, swans in; and Mildred makes all the pies.
Posted by Corumba Love