A single mother struggling to feed her family and ascend heights she never prepared for is the substance of the shadowy 1940's movie "Mildred Pierce."
Joan Crawford was the determined mother who yearned to earn the love of her spoiled daughter. And her maternal ministrations won Crawford her first and only Oscar.
But that was then, and this is now. Another Academy Award-winning actress will be fighting that good fight when Kate Winslet takes on Mildred's ordeal in HBO's retelling of James M. Cain's book on March 27.
The miniseries is directed by Todd Haynes ("Far from Heaven," "Velvet Goldmine") who sees Mildred as a sympathetic pawn of the Depression. ... "I was so startled and surprised by reading the James M. Cain novel, which I had never read until '08, right as the financial markets were tumbling in the United States, at how incredibly frank and how much he was really purposefully trying to not do a film noir as he'd come to be known for in 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' and 'Double Indemnity,'" Haynes said.
"But [he was] really doing a realistic portrait of a mother-daughter relationship set in the 10-year span of the Depression in Los Angeles," he said.
He was gripped by Mildred's frank sexuality and the complex mother-daughter relationship, Haynes said. "[It] was so much more nuanced and so much more relevant, I thought, and relatable than I ever truly felt about the original film, which is a beautifully, stylized piece of Hollywood operatic, noir filmmaking.
"This felt modern and contemporary and approachable," he said. "And it's one of the reasons why I wanted to take it on."
For Winslet it was a different test.
"The priority was really just to capture the sort of the horrible honesty that does appear at certain moments in this story," said Winslet, who finds herself a single mother after two divorces.
"They're very real people experiencing very real emotions. And the most important thing for us, in terms of the ones who were conveying this story, was to simply be as pure and as honest as possible and as true to the book as possible as well, because it is such a spectacular piece of writing."
For Haynes, a film aficionado, "It made me think a lot about the great period of the American revisionist film in the '70s where a lot of genre filmmaking was getting sort of re-examined by younger filmmakers. And these filmmakers were bringing a real sense of contemporary, sophisticated, nuanced kind of performances to what were otherwise classy genre films like, 'The Godfather' or 'The Exorcist' or 'Chinatown,'" he said.
Winslet, who's better known for her film work in movies such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Reader" and, of course, "Titanic," said television is a whole different playing field.
"We had more to shoot, and we had to work a lot faster, but the determination and the level of focus that we all had to have because we were limited was so much more intense, honestly, than certainly any film I've been a part of. I mean film, schmilm. I'm telling you, television is so much harder."
She says it forced the cast and crew to re-examine their work ethics. "... It just meant we were like hyper-focused every single day, all of us. I mean, the crew was spectacular and absolutely rolled with it, and it was a really truly collaborative and an extraordinary experience, totally team-led by Todd."
Though, like Mildred, she's suffered through tumult in her personal life, Winslet said she harbors no regrets.
"I would never erase any part of my life or things that have happened to me even if they've been tough to get through at the time or frightening or whatever they might have been."