Nov 13

“Alias Grace”: Highly Relevant Series Set in 1800’s

As with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alias Grace” manages to be a drama set in another time, written in another era by Margaret Atwood, that speaks specifically and almost uncannily to today’s audience. “Alias Grace” manages in its six episodes to address such issues as the reception of immigrants, the dangers of illegal abortion and, most of all, the predatory nature of powerful men and how others can conspire to keep their crimes hidden. David Bianculli, NPR

To call this series “of the moment” feels right. But it’s also incredibly depressing to do so. Acknowledging that Alias Grace taps into the Zeitgeist is essentially admitting that North American society in 2017 still has a lot in common with the North America of the mid-to-late 1800s.  Jen Chaney, Vulture

The creators of this remarkable series are also, notably, all women. Gwen Ihnat, AV Club

Six-part series Alias Grace, starring Sarah Gadon, has made its debut on Netflix and is winning high praise. As summarized on Rotten Tomatoes:

…Alias Grace tells the story of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a young, poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who – along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) – finds herself accused and convicted of the infamous 1843 double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin).

How we the audience hear Grace’s story is accomplished via both her own narration and her daily talks with a particular gentleman. Patrick Schmidt, Netflix Life: “Grace is speaking with Dr. Simon Jordan, played by Edward Holcroft, who is more or less a therapist for Grace to speak about her involvement in the murder and the contradictory testimony she gave…”

Here’s how Dr. Jordan, who’s been hired by a group interested in gaining a prison pardon for Grace, explains his role: “I am a doctor that works not with bodies, but with the mind. Diseases of the mind and the brain, and the nerves.”

Jen Chaney (Vulture) reports that Grace’s sessions with Dr. Jordan “immerse us in the seemingly credible moments surrounding her mother’s death, her friendship with a vibrant fellow servant named Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), and her life at Kinnear’s farm, where Nancy’s dark moods foster enough strong resentment in both Grace and surly fellow worker James McDermott (Kerr Logan) to put killing on their minds.”

Hank Stuever, Washington Post: “The story comes to the viewer in complex chunks and unsettling layers…Innocent or guilty? There’s much more to it than that.”

Viewers won’t know for sure what really happened and to what extent Grace is truthful, it seems. Allison Shoemaker, rogerebert.com: “The ambiguities of Alias Grace are among its greatest strengths, and they’re handled with remarkable finesse by director Mary Harron and her top-flight cast.”

Get a glimpse of Alias Grace in the following trailer:

Selected Reviews

Sonia Saraiya, Variety: “In most of the ways that matter, Netflix’s Alias Grace presents an adaptation that delivers the gothic horror, social commentary, and domestic investigation of the novel.”

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times: “It’s so heavy throughout the first installment, you might wish for at least one of the characters to open a parlor window and let in some air, but as the story progresses it becomes too engrossing to turn away.”

Johanna Schneller, Toronto Star: “It feels right that The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace both aired in this, the year of Trump. The former shows what could happen to women. The latter shows what did.”