[Safe] and Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes is moving to television for his next project, a mini-series adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic noir novel Mildred Pierce. He’s given Kate Winslet the nod to take the title role, a woman struggling to survive the depression and protect her daughter amidst a complex set of betrayals and even murder. It’s the character that gave Joan Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar win, courtesy of Michael Curtiz’ truly splendid 1945 feature film.
Curtiz and his screenwriters Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner and Catherine Turney took a number of creative liberties with Cain’s novel, most notably changing its entire structure and set-up. Unlike the linear novel, the film recounts the story in flashback after Mildred Pierce has been arrested on suspicion of murder. It works quite wonderfully, and definitely creates even more of a sweaty and desperate tone than the novel has, and I’m very curious to see if Haynes will, or even can, adopt the same strategy. Personally, I’m hoping he returns to the chronological ordering of the novel and lets the pressure build steadily. I can see him doing a bent-out-of-shape soap like that quite superbly.
Far From Heaven was Haynes’ first explicit tribute to the “women’s pictures” of the 50s, most specifically in that case the melodramas of Douglas Sirk. He’s not wandered too far with this one, and I might argue that with a re-do of Mildred Pierce he’s actually targeted the greatest picture of the entire genre. Thankfully, he’s got an actress who can genuinely stand up to Crawford on his side.
Variety admit surprise that a star of Ms. Winslet’s caliber has signed on for a TV production. I say more power to her while, at the same time, not so secretly wishing the whole series was being set up for a big screen roll out anyway. Why can’t this day-and-date window-closing sometimes swing the other way, with some cinema screenings for the really hot TV fare? Sounds great to me, and a good way to drum up some publicity and support.
At the moment, no broadcaster has tied up the screening rights though HBO are said to be the lead contender.