Reviewing the Netflix Adaptation of Atwood’s Alias Grace

Written by Angie Carrera

Written in 1996, Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, comes to life in a six-part mini series on Netflix. This series comes after Hulu’s successful adaptation of another Atwood novel: The Handmaid’s Tale. During a time of great feminist activism, it is evident that Margaret Atwood’s work is at its prime, and this is exemplified by her “murderess” protagonist, Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon).

Alias Grace is a true-crime story set in Victorian Canada, where Grace and her stable hand counterpart, James McDermott (Kerr Logan), have been accused and convicted of the murders committed in 1843 of Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), his head housekeeper and lover. Before being hung, McDermott adds to his confession that it was in fact Grace who made him kill Kinnear and Montgomery, causing severe confusion  regarding Grace’s claims of innocence.

From the moment the show begins, Grace becomes the object of every conversation. She is an oddity in her own right as a female killer, but what’s even more confusing to the public is that she still displays the gentle and mild-mannered attributes that contemporary social manners required of women.

The show takes the form of a series of interrogations held by a psychiatrist named Dr. Jordan (Edward Holcroft), who becomes involved in the case fifteen years after the murders have occurred, when he is initially hired to write a letter to the government in favour of Grace’s release. Dr. Jordan too becomes captivated by her mannerisms and attentively watches her during their time together, falling victim to her mystery. The show distinguishes between past and present with a more vivid colour scheme presenting itself when Grace remembers her spotty past. Quick flashes of memory dance their way across the screen, alluding back to a time Grace once lived, but chooses not to speak of.

Flashes of apples falling down wooden stairs and a smiling woman waving from across the yard make their way to the forefront in a sensational storytelling style. These curious images flood the audience’s mind with questions on what exactly happened as the threads of the mystery behind the murders are slowly unwoven.

Despite being about murder, the scenes themselves are not overly done or too squeamish. The air of mystery very much finds its way to the scences of implicit violence. Despite this, it is clear that there are differences between socio-economic statuses that plagued the time; well-to-do men and women are dressed in regal dresses in abundant fabric, while impoverished immigrants wear simple and faded clothes.  

This exceptional series shows true signs of a woman toughened by the ill treatment of life, after having suffered abuses from most all the men she has encountered. With the theme of patriarchal power present in most every scene, a sort of rebellion arises in Grace’s voice as she begins to comfortably speak to Dr. Jordan. Grace is shown to be a woman beyond her time, and allows for a current audience to identify with her as she stands up for herself and eschews prescribed gender roles through her dominant manner.

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