Alias Grace (2017) starring Sarah Gadon & Anna Paquin

Hollywood may still be a (dysfunctional) man’s world, BUT this Canadian 6 episode miniseries (streaming on Netflix) puts women in the forefront; they’re also behind the camera. The screenwriters are Sarah Polley (who started out as an actress, BUT garnered critical acclaim w/ her writing and directing) and Margaret Atwood (who wrote the historical novel upon which this series is based). Polley, who is also an executive producer, first tried to acquire the rights when the book came out in 1996. If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), check out Alias Grace; they share many common themes. I looked up the veteran director (Mary Harron); she was at the helm of American Psycho, as well as eps of two of my favorite shows (Homicide; Oz). The star of the series, Sarah Gadon, is a 30 y.o. actress who I’ve seen in a few films (A Royal Night Out, Maps to the Stars, and Belle). She is one of those women who can easily pass as a teen girl, if the role demands. And yes, ALL the women mentioned so far are Canadians!

The story focuses on a retelling of the events leading up to the (real-life) murders of Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross from Due South and Slings and Arrows) and Nancy Montgomery (Oscar winner Anna Paquin). An Irish immigrant maid in Victorian era Toronto, Grace Marks (Gadon), is questioned many years after her conviction at the Kingston Penitentiary by a young psychoanalyst, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft). Grace (along with stable-hand James McDermott) was convicted of murder, but doubts surrounding her guilt remain. Dr. Jordan (who was created by Atwood for this series) was brought to town by a Spiritualist society, headed by Rev. Verrenger (famed director David Cronenberg). 

I started watching Alias Grace after an acquaintance posted about it on Facebook; she has written for TV herself. When some people watch period dramas, they’re looking for an escape (Downton Abbey is a popular example from PBS). However, Alias Grace is NOT all stiff upper lips, spotless clothing, and nice scenery; it has troubling (and sometimes bloody) scenes. This show is also providing  commentary on contemporary times; issues such as immigration, abortion, and harassment come up. 

[1] Sarah Gadon manages to simultaneously convey purity and malevolence with a single glance, and the dynamic between she and Dr. Jordan is laden with wonderful tension. 

[2] The main character, Grace, is a complex study in not only the human mind and its darker recesses, but also the power of the survival instinct in all of us. 

[3] Grace’s inner voice is strong and true. Also, she has no control over her life, but she is not broken. I often think that is the greatest sin of woman of her kind in the eyes of society.

[4] …the filmmakers here really paint a visceral picture of what life likely consisted of for women (and men) of that time period.

[5] The directing is precise and shows you what you need for the story. The horrific and painful parts of the story are such that it could not have been shown in such detail if it was adapted many years ago. What a perfect balance of beauty and horror.

–Excerpts from IMDB reviews



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