Todd Haynes’s adaptation is very different from the Joan Crawford film and much more difficult to watch. This film is beautifully shot and paced, tightly controlled. But Mildred is so fundamentally unpleasant that it is difficult to empathize with her until the final two episodes. I have never seen Kate Winslet play so strict and purse-lipped a character before.
My sense of things after watching the brief promotional video put together by HBO to advertise for the series is that Haynes and Winslet identify with Ida rather than with Mildred. Winslet actually says that she was Ida when she was young: talented, ambitious, trapped in a stale middle-class home with ordinary parents and desperate to get away. Haynes, an L. A. kid who made good, probably has a similar connection with Ida. And so, after the fact, it seems right to say that I feel as if I have been shown Mildred’s story as told by her horrible daughter.
One final note: Haynes’s interests seem all formal here. There is very little apparent empathy with characters. Very little interest even. It’s as if all the blood had been drained away and the bodies embalmed and set on display. I can’t help wondering if this isn’t because this is the first film he’s ever made that is not queer.