Kate Winslet Kate Winslet

Hollywood kinda blew it. Now HBO is determined to get it right. Mildred Pierce, a five-hour miniseries based on the classic James M. Cain novel about a single mom struggling through the Great Depression, stars Kate Winslet in the role made famous by Joan Crawford. Mommie Dearest won an Oscar for the 1945 film version, which is hardly considered definitive. In fact, it pretty much mangled and sanitized Cain's starkly sexual feminist saga. Winslet, herself an Oscar winner, watched only five minutes of the Crawford film, then stopped, she says, "because I wouldn't have been able to un-see it. I had to be very true to the Mildred Pierce that is in the brilliant novel."

This tale of tough love gone bad — packed with heady doses of glamour, romance and tragedy — costars Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood) as Mildred's daughter Veda, who, despite her mother's sacrifice and intense devotion, grows up to become a spiteful, vengeful nightmare.

"The story is set throughout the 1930s, but any modern mother and daughter will understand the dynamics here," says director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven). "They'll recognize the passions and conflicts and misplaced compulsions that come out of loving your child."

Winslet, who almost never does TV, had much adjusting to do. "We had to work a lot faster [and] the level of focus was so much more intense than certainly any film I've been a part of," says the actress, who survived Titanic. "Film, schmilm. I'm telling you, television is so much harder!"

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