Kate Winslet taking on Joan Crawford's Oscar-winning role in 'Mildred Pierce'
A year after finally taking home the Oscar for "The Reader," Kate Winslet is ready to go back to work. The Hollywood Reporter says Winslet will be starring in a five-hour TV remake of the 1945 film "Mildred Pierce," which won Joan Crawford her only Academy Award. We can only imagine what that grande dame of old Hollywood would think of all this.
Todd Haynes ("I'm Not There") is adapting James M. Cain's bestselling 1941 novel and will direct the HBO miniseries. 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."
The 1945 "Mildred Pierce" contended for six Oscars, including best picture, which went to "The Lost Weekend." Crawford earned the first of her eventual three Oscar nominations -- "Possessed" (1947) and "Sudden Fear" (1952) were the others. The actress feigned illness on Oscar night and, after skipping the ceremony, she received the press at home, where she accepted the Oscar in bed.
The meaty title role in "Mildred Pierce" is a single mother who struggles to provide for her two daughters during the Depression. Taking on a job as a waitress, she infuriates her older daughter, Veda, who has grandiose social ambitions. After younger daughter Kay dies of pneumonia, Mildred pours all her love into the ungrateful Veda. The mother is even willing to take a murder rap for the daughter, who offs her stepfather in a dramatic shootout.
If Winslet thinks she can score another award, an Emmy, by assuming this role, she may be doubly mistaken. For starters, "Mildred Pierce" looks like high-camp soap opera when viewed from the cynical perspective of the 21st century. How can that mix be adapted for modern audiences? Second, it may not really be award-winning material. It's widely known among Oscarologists that Crawford didn't really win her Golden Boy for the brilliance of her diva strutting in "Mildred Pierce." She won it for the brilliance of her full-throttle strong-arm campaign, one of the first major tub-thumping blitzkriegs in Oscar history.
In 1945, it looked like Crawford's career was all washed up. She had left MGM after 18 years and was desperately hustling up roles at Warner Bros. when she discovered "Mildred Pierce," a role rejected by Bette Davis. Director Michael Curtiz didn't want Crawford on board, dismissing her as a has-been, but he finally bowed to studio pressure after she agreed to take a screen test.
In December, award watchers were stunned when Crawford was voted best actress by the National Board of Review. Variety called it an "eye-opening selection," which certainly opened Crawford's eyes. Promptly, she hired a veteran PR man to manage her Oscar campaign and was off to win her overdue chunk of Academy gold, beating the three previous champs in the race -- Greer Garson, Jennifer Jones and Ingrid Bergman -- as well as Gene Tierney.
Photo: "Mildred Pierce" poster. Credit: Warner Bros.