Mildred Pierce, a Mother's Unrequited Love

Mildred Pierce is the story of an American housewife and her complicated relationship with her daughter Veda. This masterpiece of TV-noir is a hidden gem in the HBO catalog.
Mildred Pierce, a Mother's Unrequited Love

Last update: 17 August, 2021

Mildred Pierce is an HBO miniseries that’s well worth watching. Kate Winslet plays the main character in this five-part drama that’s unwaveringly faithful to James M. Cain’s 1941 novel. However, it’s rather different from the 1945 film which took many liberties with the plot, characters, and settings.  Nevertheless, Joan Crawford still won an Academy Award for Best Actress in this version.

Unlike movies, the miniseries genre has the luxury of more time to tell its stories. Indeed, this series tells you much more about the day-to-day nature of Mildred Pierce’s life. In this way, you get a much clearer view of the context surrounding the dramatic events. Furthermore, it moves away from the nightmarish and noir towards something soapier – at least in the early episodes.

The plot begins with Mildred baking pies for her daughters and conveys a certain peacefulness before moving on to the inevitable emotional pain and suffering. The miniseries manages to create empathy towards the mother figure. It also raises the transcendental question of: is there such a thing as an evil person?

Mildred Pierce, a memorable miniseries

Kate Winslet takes the lead role in this version of Mildred Pierce, and she does wonders with it. Todd Haynes, the director, wrote the screenplay adaptation together with Jon Raymond. They both put most of the weight of the drama on her shoulders. The period setting is stunningly real. Indeed, the magazines, the wallpaper, the food on the plates, and even the slightly muted photography represent the era pefectly.

The story gives new expression to an ancient primal fear: a mother’s dread of being replaced, destroyed, or disowned by their child. In fact, Mildred’s tortured relationship with her spoiled daughter, Veda, is a variation on other classic representations of this particular theme.

The series is about a mother’s disturbance at realizing that her daughter isn’t a good person. It’s along the same lines as films like The Bad Seed, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and, most recently, Family Crimes.

A scene from Mildred Pierce.

A struggling mother

Mildred Pierce is a housewife in Glendale, California, whose life is turned upside down in the Great Depression. Her husband, a failed real estate agent, runs off with another woman and leaves her with no income. Thus, she must solely rely on the money she makes baking and selling pies to the neighbors.

Brian O’Byrne plays her first husband, Bert, the one who cheats on her. Also, there’s Guy Pearce as Monty, the rich, lazy cad who seduces Mildred and fuels her independence. Then, there’s Melissa Leo, her neighbor and confidante, Lucy, and James LeGros, her business partner and occasional lover, Wally.

Nearly all the scenes and dialogue are taken from the book, including the pretentious airs of Veda, who, as a child is played by Morgan Turner. As opposed to her younger sister Ray (Quinn McColgan), Veda poisons the atmosphere of the Pierce household. She plays the piano and projects herself as being much higher on the social scale despite the fact that she lives in a middle-class neighborhood.

Throughout the chapters, the audience witnesses the admirable story of Mildred. She works hard to open her own restaurant with Wally’s backing and eventually succeeds in a man’s world. Meanwhile, Veda continues to be something of a child prodigy on the piano and Mildred religiously pays for her expensive lessons.

Looking for Mildred Pierce’s faults in her daughter

The fourth part of the story jumps ahead four years. It’s now evident that Mildred’s circumstances have greatly improved. This is where you meet the adult Veda, played by Evan Rachel Wood. She’s less hostile toward her mother. At least, until a well-respected music teacher tells her she’s not the talented pianist everyone (especially Mildred) believes her to be.

Veda is absolutely furious and some of her manipulating behavior begins to be uncovered. It’s then when you begin to wonder where Mildred went wrong. Indeed, most viewers unconsciously assume her evil is due to some kind of maternal failure.

For instance, you might look back to how Veda’s seemingly impossible dreams actually inspired Mildred. Also, Mildred’s still there, and still making excuses for and justifying her daughter’s brazenness, narcissism, and emotional coldness.

A scene from a series.

Mildred Pierce – even daughters don’t always deserve forgiveness

Few audiovisual productions deal with such complex issues as a mother’s forgiveness of her daughter after a lifetime of abuse. Furthermore, in this case, she’s put up with it and remained silent. It raises the question, exactly how much should a mother ever have to sacrifice?

Mildred Pierce is the representation of endless love. Indeed, as a rule, mothers do tend to be extremely forgiving and unceasingly supportive of their children. It seems to be part of that mother’s instinct and the natural bond they tend to have with their offspring.

This series shows that the world should stop demonizing mothers for the adult behaviors of their children. Because some people are just evil by nature. Undoubtedly, they may be talented and even well-liked, but it doesn’t stop them from being unreasonable to their mothers.

Mildred Pierce, like other mothers, has the right to rebuild her life. Similarly, in real life, society should adopt the same attitude to mothers in similar situations.

It might interest you...
Mothers and Daughters: The Bond that Heals and Hurts
Exploring your mindRead it in Exploring your mind
Mothers and Daughters: The Bond that Heals and Hurts

Almost all of us have the need to be seen by our mothers, we seek their approval.