Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

TV Eye: TV's bleak halfway house

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Kate Winslet (right), here with Evan Rachel Wood, is wonderfully restrained in the title role of Mildred Pierce. Photo / Supplied
Kate Winslet (right), here with Evan Rachel Wood, is wonderfully restrained in the title role of Mildred Pierce. Photo / Supplied

I'm not surprised they've called it Igloo. This new pay-TV platform, which was announced by Sky and TVNZ last week and will switch on next year, sounds to me like a small, chilly and cheerless halfway house in the middle of bloody nowhere.

And it's not exactly cheap and cheerless. Igloo (brrr) will reportedly require subscribers to buy a $200 set-top box which will give them the free-to-air channels in digital and, for the cost of $25 a month ($300 a year), another 11 channels from Sky - though it appears, at this stage, to be too few of the good ones. There is no advanced recording facility either.

But it's not a total stinking dead seal. Igloo's (brrr) rather blah initial offering is brightened slightly by the news that it lets you "live pause" programmes, will allow broadband "interconnectivity" (though at an unspecified future date) and will let you pay-per-view sport, movies and "additional TV shows".

This last bit is the most interesting. If - and it's a big if - that additional TV includes, for an extra buck or two, pay-per-view access to episodes of first-run shows playing elsewhere on Sky, then Igloo (brrr) might well be worth it.

In fact - having been reprimanded by a few readers for recently complaining about the cost of my MySky HDi package - this concept sounds particularly good: it might allow many more people, other than just alleged rich pricks like me, to see something as astonishingly good as the bleak but brilliant Mildred Pierce (8.30pm Fridays, and at other times, on SoHo).

It is not easy viewing, this faithful, Emmy-winning adaptation of a novel by James M. Cain (he also wrote famous noir novels-made-into-films The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity).

Set, initially at least, at the beginning of the 1930s - and therefore the Great Depression - this is a chilling, compelling study of family, snobbery and the son-of-a-bitch that is human nature.

As this five-episode mini-series opened (Sky played the first two episodes back to back), the very proper Mrs Pierce (an excellent, restrained Kate Winslet) was a middle-class mother of two young, very precocious daughters who quickly kicked out her mostly benign but philandering husband Bert from the family manse.

Forced into the workforce to keep food on the table, she initially resisted taking work as a housemaid and in a tea shop before, bowing to inevitability, she secretly started work as a waitress in a "hash house".

This was something like pride's fall. But, unexpectedly, she discovered an unforeseen sense of independence and self-worth - but at the cost of the cruel and sneering contempt of her snotty, snobby eldest daughter Veda, who cannot bear to have her mother working as a mere waitress. Mildred, in desperation to prove herself worthy to her own daughter, hatched a plan to start her own restaurant.

Matters are further complicated by the tragic death of her youngest, Lucy, from a fever, and Mildred's sudden wild fling with a wealthy, foppish loafer (Guy Pearce as Monty Beragon).

However is the relationship with Veda - the bitter battleground of rivalry between mother and daughter - which is undoubtedly at the centre of this pitch-black piece. Put it this way: I've got a feeling it's not going to end well.

Which is fine by me. Mildred Pierce is the sort of drama you're more likely to find between a book's covers than on screen: nuanced, character-driven and with something - not all together pleasant, actually - to say about the human heart.

It deserves to be seen more widely than just in the homes of alleged rich pricks. It deserves to be seen in Igloos (brrr) too.

- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

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