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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Gall in the family

...smart to stay a waitress, Mildred transcends her situation with an ambitious plan to open her own restaurant. If this was a food thing, it would be the Julia Child story. But this is HBO's flipside to Boardwalk Empire - the one where the...
The Straits Times - June 10, 2011
By: tay yek keak
| More
Gall in the family

Abandoned by her unfaithful husband in 1930s Depression- era California, Mildred Pierce is a middle-class housewife suddenly forced to fend for herself and two young daughters.

Because Mildred is played by Kate Winslet in this five-part miniseries, serious drama is in store here.

Luckily, the drama gets the man-woman spat out of the way quickly in the first episode to focus on a more peculiar and murkier one - between a mother and her relentlessly wicked daughter.

Mildred is a proud woman who balks at working below her social status but ends up waiting on tables serving snooty customers.

The dame is, after all, a concoction of author James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice), whose hardboiled fiction in the 1940s featured unsettled protagonists and their hard choices.

Too smart to stay a waitress, Mildred transcends her situation with an ambitious plan to open her own restaurant. If this was a food thing, it would be the Julia Child story.

But this is HBO's flipside to Boardwalk Empire - the one where the woman did not become an easy concubine in tough times, but dwelt in complexities more unknowable.

Newly independent Mildred holds one fundamental flaw. After one child dies early, her devotion to her surviving daughter, Veda, a cruel snob who sneers at her mother's hard struggle, borders on masochistic self-destruction.

A 1945 film adaptation of this toxic mother-and-daughter combo, starring Joan Crawford, became a murder noir. This TV version will present it as the quixotic, withering quest for a long-suffering Mommie Dearest to plough through her labours.

'Never give it up, the way you have of looking at things,' Mildred tells Veda, implicitly encouraging her child to inflict more pain upon her.

The last two episodes will see Veda played by True Blood's Evan Rachel Wood as a grown-up opera singer (author Cain's quaint obsession) and an amoral shrew.

I am intrigued by this - a sinking into the depths where family bonds turn emotion and reason dangerously irrational. And I am glad that director Todd Haynes (2002's Far From Heaven) can frame suppressed frustration through florid, torrid melodrama.

Winslet's accent may teeter between casual Yank and clipped Brit, but as a palette of anguish, triumph and bafflement, she is a perfect nuance in motion.

Meanwhile, Big Love comes full circle.

In its final Season 5, the polygamous brood of much harried Mormon businessman Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three quibbling wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) finally gets exposed.

At the end of last season, Henrickson became a Utah state senator and admitted being an illegal polygamist practising big love under a big tent. This time, they are judged, shunned and stared at like lepers at a colony.

You know, the series overdid the soap drama in the last two seasons and I just prayed for them to get outed. The Lord works in mysterious ways and one of them is to put in the centre of this melee the great Bill Paxton.

If this dude does not kill himself in view of the intense pressure from fronts domestic, social, religious, economic and political, there should be no excuse for anybody to do so. 'If we hold onto our faith, we will prosper,' he urges in the face of disintegration.

He is a one-man balancing act in a heady, now-what circus. At the end of the day, a polygamous family is no different from a mafia family or a White House family. They just want to be left alone to get on in the crazy land of America.

Speaking of crazy, the folks in Louisiana in Swamp People shoot alligators. These denizens - Cajuns of the bayous - hunt the reptiles by shooting them dead right in the water. Now, you would imagine, from watching Deliverance, that anything goes with the banjo in that neck of the woods.

But there is an impressive order in the way the gators are slaughtered for meat and hide, and in the exertion of manhood that stereotypes Cajun country as a tough mean place that is no refuge for the faint-hearted.

Narrated like a yarn down a Mark Twain river, this series is fascinating simply for intruding into the backyard of Hicksville.

'Thank God I'm a country boy,' one of the good old boys sings in his boat on a hunt.

Thank God I am not.

stlife@sph.com.sg

MILDRED PIERCE

HBO (StarHub Channel 601), Thursdays, 9pm

*** 1/2

BIG LOVE SEASON 5

HBO Signature (StarHub Channel 603)

Premieres on Tuesday, 10pm

*** 1/2

SWAMP PEOPLE

History (StarHub Channel 401), Thursdays, 11pm

***

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