Mildred Pierce (15)

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The Independent Culture

Kate Winslet delivers a powerhouse performance (when doesn't she?) in Todd Haynes's faithful and relatively restrained adaptation of James M Cain's novel.

It's a lot less melodramatic than Michael Curtiz's ripe 1945 version, which memorably featured a tour-de-force turn from Joan Crawford. However, Winslet's harried Mildred (her husband, Bert, has up and left her for another woman, it's the Great Depression and her older daughter, Veda, is proving to be cruel and unusual; Mildred's pal correctly points out that she "has some funny ideas") has more room to breathe and develop in HBO's immaculately constructed five-hour mini-series. After traipsing the streets for receptionist work, Mildred swallows her pride and becomes a waitress. And because she's smart, resilient and a great cook, Mildred blossoms, eventually opening her own chicken restaurant. However, two things keep holding her back. The vile Veda ("You're such a sap, mother") and her boyfriend, Guy Pearce's feckless Monty ("I don't do anything... I loaf"). But, as Mildred points out to a hysterical Veda, "battles aren't won by quitting."

Haynes's sharp, saucy drama benefits hugely from exquisite performances from a louche Pearce, a creepy Evan Rachel Wood as cruel Veda, and, of course, from the Emmy-winning Winslet. Let's face it, she's currently our most accomplished screen actress.