“We didn’t lose. We just haven’t won yet.”
I just completed the limited mini-series Alias Grace on Netflix (limited meaning the series is self contained). It opens with the quote above which does set the tone for the entire series. I have to say it was remarkable! Written by Margaret Atwood (A Handmaiden’s Tale) it is based on the real life story of Grace Marks. This review WILL contain spoilers as much as the story is a matter of historical record. How Ms. Atwood spins that into an entrancing tale is what makes this series so very special.
Produced by Sarah Polly and starring Sarah Gadon as Grace Marks I was immediately pulled into the story after just a single episode. I burned through this faster than most things I watch as I just HAD to find out what happened next! The production values are solid, costumes are excellent, the locations are well chosen, and the cinematography is top notch! It really shows that you don’t need car chases, explosions, or a bunch of CGI to make a compelling series…you need a GOOD story and SOLID acting!
Atwood serves as consulting producer, which we can only assume means she wanted to keep the spirit of her work true. Sarah Polly has had this project in her head for over half of her adult life.
“I thought it was the most complex, complicated, fascinating and enigmatic portrayal of a woman I’d ever seen,” exclaims Polley. “She’s the most extreme character – man or woman – because it can never get to the bottom of her. Once you think you have a hold on her, the rug is pulled out from under you.”
The story is the somber journey of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Canada in the mid 1800s. The backdrop for the story
deals with Canada’s failed rebellion led by William Lyon Mackenzie calling for constitutional reform. Grace faces hardship early on in life as the eldest child in a family with an abusive and alcoholic patriarch. Grace loses her mother before reaching the shores of Canada and has to take her place in caring for the family. The series is told through the eyes of it’s protagonist during a number of sessions with a doctor who has been enlisted to prove Grace’s innocence, whether that be by way of insanity or actual lack of responsibility we have to wait and see. Grace holds sway over those around her in the most subtle and passive way. There are those who see her as weak and therefore an easy target for abuse and others who view her as a deserving case for charity…both find they have misjudged her based on what they see on her surface.
Zack Levi plays Jeremiah Pontelli, equal parts shyster and savior. He is instrumental in Grace’s life both before and after the murders. The doctor that is tasked to determine Grace’s guilt and mental state is masterfully captured by Kingsman actor Edward Holcroft. Anna Paquin (Rogue from X-Men) is unexpectedly an unlikable character…normally cast as either an ingenue or innocent, Paquin is Nancy Montgomery, a role she plays with all the selfish glee and jealousy that it calls for.
Again, I’m happy to team up with Becky from Ten Times Ten for this co-review!
I “can’t even” with this show…IN A GOOD WAY! Going into viewing Alias Grace I had ZERO prior knowledge or insight into what this story was, who this Grace character is or even that any of this happened in ACTUAL history. So, after viewing it I thought, “This is a great story! It would be crazy if that were real, right?” YUP. It is in fact very real and quite crazy. The way the protagonist, Grace, is depicted initially is through the eyes of everyone else around her. Some condemn her and have named her a “murderess” while others fight for her pardon as she is on trial for a crime she claims she didn’t commit. Everything that transpires from there is completely subjective as far as I’m concerned as a viewer. Grace even says that even she has begun to believe some of the lies she’s told. It’s hard not to when your mind has been toyed with your whole life. I found myself in this constant battle of empathy for Grace and all she’s been through, but also seeing the manipulation of her situations time and time again…as if being pulled through the mind of one with a duel personality, but is also quite self aware. On top of all that you have within Grace’s personal story these heavy reminders of what it was to be a woman in the mid 1800s…only 150 years ago. Sure we expect it from the time period, but hearing the “sexist banter”, seeing the expectations both sexual and non and the behaviors that were encouraged and considered “normal” made me personally uneasy. It almost made perfect sense as to why a woman may be driven to murder; people have killed for less after all. But then again, was anything she said even real?