When the 2011 Primetime Emmy nominations were announced, the contender with the most bids turned out not to be past champs “Mad Men” (19 nominations) or “Modern Family” (17) or HBO’s hot newcomer “Boardwalk Empire” (18). Rather, another program from the paycaster — the miniseries “Mildred Pierce” — topped the list with 21 nominations. In all, HBO accumulated a leading 104 nominations.
“Mildred Pierce” is based on the 1941 bestseller by James M. Cain. Cain’s title character, a newly separated mother, finds success with a new restaurant but fails to find love again and is betrayed by her eldest daughter. Warner Bros. snapped up the screen rights and in 1945 released the film version starring Joan Crawford. Crawford, who had left MGM after 18 years, had to fight to convince studio chiefs and director Michael Curtiz that she was right for the role; she even agreed to a screen test.
Her efforts were rewarded as she was voted Best Actress by the National Board of Review. Crawford began to court Academy voters and reaped her first Oscar nomination. She faced the three previous champs — Ingrid Bergman (“The Bells of St. Mary’s”), Greer Garson (“The Valley of Decision”) and Jennifer Jones (“Love Letters”) — as well as Gene Tierney (“Leave Her to Heaven”). Feigning illness on Oscar night, she skipped the ceremony but received the press at her home, where she accepted the Oscar in bed.
That was the only win for “Mildred Pierce”: it lost Best Picture to “The Lost Weekend”; Eve Arden (Ida, Mildred’s boss) and Ann Blyth (Veda, her duplicitous daughter) both lost Supporting Actress to Anne Revere (“National Velvet”); Ranald MacDouglall lost Adapted Screenplay to Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (“The Lost Weekend”); and “The Picture of Dorian Grey” won the Black-and-White Cinematography race.
For this new five-hour version, Todd Haynes (“I’m Not There”) adapted the novel with Jon Raymond and directed. Haynes was a 2002 Oscar nominee for his script of “Far From Heaven,” a homage to the lush 1950s movie romances of director Douglas Sirk; he lost to Pedro Almodovar for “Talk to Her.”
Kate Winslet chose to make this her first project after winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2009 for “The Reader.” Joining her were Golden Globe nominee #Evan Rachel Wood# (“Thirteen”) as Veda, two-time Emmy champ in the Supporting Movie/Mini race #Mare Winningham# (“Amber Waves,” 1980; “George Wallace,” 1998) as Ida and #Melissa Leo# — before she won the Oscar for “The Fighter” — in the role of stalwart friend Lucy which had been dropped from the film. The men in Mildred’s life included ex-husband Bert (2004 Featured Play Actor Tony champ #Brian F. O’Byrne#, “Frozen”) and the rich reprobate Monty (Guy Pearce).
Despite its pedigree and production values, the miniseries rated just 69 at Metacritic and viewership hovered around the million mark when it aired in March. Critics split between praising and panning the program. People Weekly raved, “This is an epic portrait of a woman who’s monumentally single-minded yet uncomprehending, and watching her rise and fall inspires a sick awe.” At the other end of the spectrum, the Wall Street Journal griped that there’s “so little dramatic action driving the plot, that even an actor as talented as Ms. Winslet can hardly fill the dead spaces.” Clearly, Emmy voters agreed with the former.
BEST MINISERIES OR MOVIE
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Evan Rachel Wood
BEST ART DIRECTION
Mark Friedberg, Production Designer
Peter Rogness, Art Director
Ellen Christiansen-De Jonge, Set Decorator
Ann Roth, Costume Designer
Michelle Matland, Assistant Costume Designer
BEST SINGLE-CAMERA PICTURE EDITING
Jerry DeCarlo, Department Head Hairstylist
Jerry Popolis, Personal Hairstylist
BEST MAKEUP (NON-PROSTHETIC)
Patricia Regan, Department Head Makeup Artist
Linda Melazzo, Personal Makeup Artist
BEST MUSIC COMPOSITION (ORIGINAL DRAMATIC SCORE)
BEST ORIGINAL MAIN TITLE THEME MUSIC
BEST SOUND EDITING
Eliza Paley, Supervising Dialogue/ADR Editor
Tony Martinez, Dialogue/ADR Editor
Thomas Younkman, Sound Effects Editor
Brian Dunlop, Foley Editor
Todd Kasow, Music Editor
Ellen Heuer, Foley Artist
BEST SOUND MIXING
Drew Kunin, Production Sound Mixer
Leslie Shatz, Re-Recording Mixer
Bobby Johanson, ADR Mixer
Joshua Reinhardt, Foley Mixer
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Lesley Robson-Foster, Visual Effects Supervisor
John Bair, Visual Effects Supervisor
Renuka Ballal, Visual Effects Producer
Nathan Meier, CGI Artist
Constance Conrad, Compositor
Marci Ichimura, Compositor
Josephine Noh, Compositor
Aaron Raff, Compositor
Scott Winston, Compositor
Listen to the Emmy-nominated opening title theme below, composed by double-nominee Carter Burwell.