MILDRED PIERCE (HBO) Parts 4 and 5 Advance Review

MILDRED PIERCE (HBO)

MILDRED PIERCE (HBO) Parts 4 and 5 – The final two parts of HBO’s increasingly fascinating MILDRED PIERCE miniseries find us skipping ahead in time a few years with Mildred expanding her business and Veda now a young woman. I’ve watched the conclusion and while the pace is once again often languid, there is much juicy goodness to sink into.

Evan Rachel Wood takes over as Veda and what a deliciously diabolical Veda she is. Where Winslet has given a restrained, subtle performance as Mildred, Wood’s Veda is a whirlwind. By turn seductive, manipulative, charming, and cruel; she is a force of nature and a fascinating counterpoint to her mother. Even their clothing mirrors the differences between the two: Mildred in sensibly tailored neutrals and Veda in vividly toned high fashion. The contrasts are striking throughout these last two installments, especially in the miniseries’ climax.

Speaking of that climax, it is a gloriously over-the-top piece of rich melodrama. Scenery is chewed, characters are unhinged, and there is probably the single best use of nudity I have ever seen. It’s just a terrific scene all around.

Of course, there is quite a journey still to take before we get there. The action becomes darker and more compelling as we get closer to the end and while the business aspects and return of Monty are more than enjoyable, it is the ever more calculated actions of Veda, along with Mildred’s reactions, that steal the show.

One thing I’ve enjoyed about Mildred Pierce is that while Veda is clearly a villain, Mildred is never quite a wholly innocent victim. There have been many signs that she knew exactly what Veda was and instead of tempering that behavior, she enabled it. Yes, she slapped Veda, but after her confrontation with Monty, she still promised her the piano. Mildred’s desperate need for approval and her determination to ignore what was right before her eyes helped Veda grow from a spoiled brat to a narcissistic, manipulative sociopath. This is truly a fascinating character study.

The acting is still Mildred Pierce‘s strongest point. While the pace can slow to a crawl and the tone can shift jarringly, the acting is truly never less than extraordinary. Winslet and Wood obviously own their scenes, but Guy Pearce continues to impress as the role of Monty gains complexity. Brian F. O’Byrne is marvelous as Burt, and who would have guessed how much I would grow to love a cheating husband? James LeGros plays Wally Burgan with a wonderfully sly edge and I just love Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham as Lucy and Ida. Leo is especially good in these last two parts where she lets the tough façade slip a bit.

The music, which has been stellar throughout the production, springs to the forefront in parts four and five as Veda discovers her true calling. Of special note is the score during the climactic scene because it fits the moment perfectly, enhancing the tension and adding depth to the melodrama.

Of course, I have quibbles with Mildred Pierce: the pace is often too leisurely, the sheer number of through a window shots seems self-indulgent, and it may be a bit too faithful to the novel, lessening any sense of spontaneity. Overall, though, this is a gorgeous, meticulously detailed and wonderfully acted miniseries. I’ve really enjoyed it and I think it is well worth anyone’s time.

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