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‘Alias Grace’: The Method in Madness

  • Published at 04:44 pm November 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:45 pm November 27th, 2017
‘Alias Grace’: The Method in Madness
Margaret Atwood’s adaptations have caused quite a stir on the small screen this year. Following the smashing success of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” from both critics and audiences alike, a trend seems to have ensued. The author’s adapted works have managed to find relevance even in current times. “Alias Grace,” Atwood’s latest adapted work which was released on Netflix on November 3 after its September 25 premier on CBC, is one to consume and be excited about. Based on true events, the plot revolves around Grace Marks, a 19th-century Irish-Canadian servant who allegedly murdered Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, the owner of the farm she worked at. Although set in 1843, it depicts a story that is quite familiar even in the present. With the series of reported sexual abuse and misconducts taking the media by storm, and social networking sites flooding with #metoo, Grace’s story resonates with a huge number of women living everywhere in the world. Labelled as the “celebrated murderess,” Atwood’s titular character resonates with the audience. While everyone waits for the second season of the Emmy winning series, let us explore the new show’s exciting yet unique tale of Atwood’s femme fatales.

A “Celebrated Murderess”

This Netflix series examines a complicated woman who endures abuse, oppression, and degradation at the hands of a sexist society - only this time, the setting is in 19th century Canada as opposed to the fictional dystopia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The series begins with Grace, played by Sarah Gadon, who has been convicted of a double homicide. The protagonist is first introduced as a “celebrated murderess,” while her story unfolds through flashbacks, dreams, and the writing of future letters. She was naïve and innocent, yet smart and quite capable of taking care of herself - contradictory traits that don’t seem so opposing, especially the way Gadon evokes them. As a result, we are left with an unreliable and possibly dangerous narrator.


Diverse topics

“Alias Grace” is, all at once, an immigrant’s tale, a "whodunnit?" and a chilling tragedy. Even though the series has no connotations to the supernatural, it is still haunted in its own way. There is a definite "presence" lurking around, a phantom feeling that permeates throughout the story - which is mostly, at its core, a collection of recollections. Written with melancholy flair by Sarah Polley and directed with tragic ghost story panache by Mary Harron, “Alias Grace” takes us into the enchanting, incarcerated mind of a 19th century celebrity. The experiences of her many indignities, sufferings, and endured cruelties have been portrayed in a deeply rich and layered murder mystery manner, which are based on true events.

A flawless adaptation

Literary adaptations never run without the risk of facing reader outrage. Fortunately, that was not the case for this adaptation. Peppered with quotes from Dickinson, Tennyson, Longfellow, and more, Mary Harron and Sarah Polley create a living poem - a complex shadow-of-a-shadow account of a life lived under scrutiny and savagery. Called an "inhuman demon," "soft in the head," "cunning and devious," "too ignorant for her own good," Grace, at times, represents an entire gender, generation, and social stratum; who have had their lives dictated to them.

Extraordinary performances

Working in this series’ ultimate favour is also the standout performance by Sarah Gadon as Grace. She gets to play this curious character and the addictive structure of the piece. “Alias Grace” utilises many levels to be hooked by keeping us at an intriguing arm's length. We are drawn into the titular character's intimate conversations with psychiatrist Dr Jordan, played by Edward Holcroft. 15 years into her life sentence, despite knowing that, at some points, she is an unreliable narrator. Holcroft, as Dr. Jordan, may tend to mumble his way through an American accent, but the fact that he almost underplays his part, in a repressed man-of-the-era way. This helps accentuate Grace's uniqueness and allows for a dynamic to play out in which, Jordan becomes more and more unhealthily obsessed with her. In the role of Grace's few, scarce friends growing up, Rebecca Liddiard shines as the soaring and spirited Mary Whitney, a fellow maid whose relationship with Grace helps shape almost everything to come. In the meanwhile, Zachary Levi's travelling peddler, Jeremiah, also winds up circling back into the story in a very satisfying way.
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