Alias Grace is a miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel of the same title, that made it’s Netflix debut on Friday, Nov 3rd. The miniseries follows the real-life story of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Canada who was convicted of murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1843.
In this adaptation of Atwood’s fictionalized account, Grace has been hired to perform domestic duties by the Governor’s wife and is able to leave her life of imprisonment for a few hours each day. Grace, who is somewhat of a mystical marvel, as she is perhaps the most notorious murderess of her day, is now telling her story to psychiatrist Dr. Simon Gordon. Dr. Gordon is interviewing Grace to determine if she is mentally stable, and potentially eligible for early release. Each day, as she is completing her mending, she tells small snippets of her story as Dr. Gordon listens. Her quiet, lilting tone is soothing, but the details of her past are not.
It is through her recounting her tale that the viewer slowly comes to realize what likely happened, and that Grace herself may not be the most reliable historian. Viewers are also awarded a glimpse of the hardships of Grace’s daily life, and by extension the hardships faced by women of the 19th century. Alias Grace allows the viewer to glimpse the toil and strain that was daily life for poor women, what happens when a poor woman is seduced and abandoned by a rich man, and what options are available to her when she finds herself pregnant unexpectedly.
Alias Grace also offers a glimpse of the hardships often faced by Immigrants. It shows the foul conditions aboard ships (fun fact: in real life these ships were referred to as ‘coffin ships’) and the heart-breaking loss of her mother, as death aboard a ship was all-too common (hence the aforementioned term.) We also see her early days in Canada, the abuse she receives at the hands of her drunken father, and her pressing need to find employment.
Alias Grace was not released with the same fanfare of A Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu’s adaptation of what is perhaps Atwood’s most famous novel, and that seemed to use the novel as a very loose starting point. Alias Grace differs in that it presents a portrait of life as it used to be, rather than a startling hypothetical society that has the potential to come about if…
Alias Grace is a definitely worth a watch. It’s a story told with a quiet honesty, a fair amount of tension, and it all culminates with a very ambiguous ending, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves whether Grace is guilty or innocent.