TV miniseries review: Alias Grace (Netflix, 2017), directed by Mary Harron
tl;dr: Can we really be sure M Night Shyamalan didn’t have a hand in this?
Based on a novel by Margaret Atwood and adapted by Sarah Polley (whom some of us remember from Road to Avonlea in the early 1990s – and those who watched that will also remember Mag Ruffman), Alias Grace tells the fictionalised story of real life person Grace Marks. Specifically, it tells the story of an infamous murderer.
Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) is an Irish immigrant who comes to Canada and starts working as a housemaid. Eventually, she commits, or at the very least is complicit in, double murder.
She’s locked away for 15 years, after which some people, convinced of her innocence and wrongful conviction, gets the young Dr Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) to evaluate her. He’s a doctor of the mind, and perhaps he can figure out if she’s lying or not, and if her supposed amnesia is legit.
The two start talking, and we follow Grace Marks from the time her family set foot on the ship taking them across the Atlantic, to the trial – and beyond.
Is it pretty? No, it’s ugly and gritty – but then we’re talking Margaret Atwood here, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, after all – but it’s very well done. The only thing I thought let it down was that the age of Grace was somewhat confusing. It’s the same actor throughout, but she’s … well, less than 16 when she works with Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), and around 30 when she’s in conversation with the doctor, and the only reason I realised how young she was supposed to be in the beginning was because of her first period freak-out.
The second household, where the murders take place, is at the house belonging to a Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross, or “… Waaaaait a minute, it’s the guy from Due South! Holy crap! … And wow, hasn’t he aged well?”), a.k.a. murder victim number one. He runs an unconventional household, what with being unmarried and also very chill with his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), a.k.a. murder victim number two.
There’s the rebellious/homicidal farmhand James McDermott (Kerr Logan), and sweet boy-next-door Jamie Walsh (Stephen Joffe). And, popping up here and there in her life (and not once does she bloody run off with him even though she had the chance and I was rooting for her to go), peddler Jeremiah (Zachary Levi).
The doctor listens, takes notes, and gets the hots for Grace, who may or may not be spinning him a yarn because she quite likes the attention. It’s a ambiguous on purpose. And in the end there’s a twist. Is it a spoiler to say that there’s a twist? Because it took the whole thing in an entirely different direction than I expected. Which was cool.
The miniseries as a whole is incredibly well made and well acted – and even though I may have decided to watch this based solely on about two seconds (if that) of the trailer, I’m glad I did. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the life as a housemaid in mid-1800s Canada. I had no idea there was a rebellion in Canada in the 1830s either (we didn’t learn about it in school in Sweden, and it’s not exactly been a topic on Horrible Histories here either), so I’d like to learn more about that. Because history. And it’s interesting to see the history of psychology as well, so to speak. They were not great times at the asylum, although Jane Eyre made that very clear.
It’s a little bit confounding at times, but a good 4 out of 5 fireflies.