‘Mildred Pierce’ ladies battle Dames for Best Supporting Movie/Mini Actress

Three of the nominees for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo, Mare Winningham and Evan Rachel Wood) were featured in the HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce” while the other two contenders — Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith — stole all their scenes in the PBS minis “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey.” The race is thought to be between Wood and Smith. 


While Wood only appears in the last two segments of the five-part miniseries, she makes a phenomenal impression.  As Veda Pierce, Mildred’s malevolent daughter, Wood is bratty but alluring, a villainess, seductress and rising opera star. Wood displays a wide range of emotions and easily stands her ground against Kate Winslet, overshadowing her on more than one occasion. Ann Blyth reaped an Oscar bid when James M. Cain‘s novel was first adapted by Hollywood back in 1945.

Winningham’s role also impressed the motion picture academy. Eve Arden was nominated for playing Ida, the waitress who trains Mildred and later becomes her employee. While both Arden and Blyth lost to Anne Revere for “National Velvet,” Joan Crawford won Best Actress for playing the title role in “Mildred Pierce.” Winningham is genial in the role and pales in comparison to Wood. But she can’t be completely discounted, having won this category twice (“Amber Waves,” 1980; “George Wallace,” 1997). 

Leo’s character didn’t feature in the film. She plays Lucy Gessler, Mildred’s friend and neighbor who clues her in to Veda’s strange ways and misdeeds. It’s an expository role, not the sort that usually wins awards. Of course, Leo could be riding high off her Oscar win earlier this year for “The Fighter.” The last Oscar champ to take this category was Vanessa Redgrave for “If These Walls Could Talk 2” in 2000.

Two Dames of the British Empire round out the race. Atkins co-created “Upstairs, Downstairs” with Jean Marsh in 1970. While Marsh starred in the original (and won an Emmy in 1975), Atkins did not. However, in this sequel set in the 1930s, Atkins plays the eccentric Lady Holland, who comes to visit her son and his expectant wife in their London townhouse. She’s delightful in the role, at her best helping deliver her grandchild in the miniseries’ final segment but is a longshot to win a bookend to her 2008 Emmy for “Cranford.” 

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Smith stands a much better chance at winning for her portrayal of the acid-tongued Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham in “Downton Abbey.”  It’s the sort of prim and proper role Smith has come to own in recent years. With just one arched eyebrow, she speaks volumes, commenting on the action in her inimitable way. Smith already had two Oscars (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “California Suite”) and a Tony (“Lettice and Lovage”) by the time she won an Emmy in 2003 for her leading role in the telefilm “My House in Umbria.” 

Last year’s winner was Julia Ormond who had little screen time as the title character’s mother in “Temple Grandin.” However, that HBO telefilm was a hit with Emmy voters, who awarded it Best TV Movie as well as wins for lead Claire Danes as well as supporting players David Strathairn and Ormond and director Mick Jackson.

This year, “Mildred Pierce” and “Downton Abbey” are battling it out to win the combined TV Movie/Miniseries race. While Winslet is probably a lock for her leading role, Wood and Smith are neck and neck in the supporting race. While our experts favor Wood, our editors opt for Smith as do our users. 

Senior editors Rob Licuria and Chris Beachum discuss the race in this video slugfest.

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