Kate Winslet beats back ghost of Joan Crawford as ‘Mildred Pierce’

While the reviews for the HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce” have been mixed, many critics have hailed the performance of Oscar champ Kate Winslet in the title role. This marks the first TV work for Winslet since she was a 2006 Emmy nominee for playing an exaggerated (one hopes) version of herself in the wry Ricky Gervais laffer “Extras.” She lost the Guest Comedy Actress race to Cloris Leachman who won her record eighth Emmy for a guest spot on “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Kate Winslet has not been seen on screen since “The Reader” was booked into theaters two years ago. After winning the Oscar for that performance, she chose this Todd Haynes helmed remake of the 1945 film “Mildred Pierce” as her next project. That classic film noir won Joan Crawford her only Academy Award.

The meaty title role in “Mildred Pierce” is a single mother who struggles to provide for her two daughters during the Depression. Taking on a job as a waitress, she infuriates her older daughter, Veda, who has grandiose social ambitions. After younger daughter Kay dies of pneumonia, Mildred pours all her love into the ungrateful Veda. The mother is even willing to take a murder rap for the daughter, who offs her stepfather in a dramatic shootout.

Mary McNamara (Los Angeles Times) — who was positive about the production — said about the star, “Winslet, grim and unsmiling for almost the entire 5½ hours, is determined to create a woman driven by judgmental internal voices so loud you can almost hear them; her only sources of pleasure are the emotionally sadomasochistic relationship with her daughter and occasional bursts of hot but manic sex with men she doesn’t much respect.”

And Matthew Gilbert (Boston Globe) thought, “It’s hard to see Mildred’s faults; Winslet’s sympathetic, seamless performance guarantees that. You only want to forgive her counterproductive actions, as she builds an empire but sabotages it with bad choices.”

Ken Tucker (Entertaiment Weekly) was more restrained in his praise, noting “Winslet scales down Mildred’s suffering to a modulated series of pained looks that convey heartbreak and bafflement at her daughter’s casual cruelty. It’s a subtle performance, but it can’t quite prevent a modern viewer from thinking Mildred is something of a masochistic sap, especially when we get to hour 5’s big reveal of Veda’s worst sin”

However, Robert Bianco (USA Today) remained unimpressed with Winslet: “She’s a technically proficient actor, and all the individual scenes make sense, from the long periods when Mildred is long-suffering to those moments when her resentments boil over. It’s a lovely performance, but it’s all brains and no guts and no glory.”

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