Sarah Gadon, Edward Holcroft, Anna Paquin, Paul Gross, Rebecca Liddiard, Zachary Levi
…an electric six episodes driven by the pursuit of truth and a hell of a main character…
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Alias Grace is the true story of Irish immigrant Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) and her 15-year imprisonment for the murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper Nancy (Anna Paquin) – yet she claims to have no memory of the murder, throwing into question whether she is even guilty.
The six-part miniseries directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol), and co-written by Atwood and actress turned filmmaker Sarah Polley, follows Grace as she shares her story with psychologist Dr Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), who was enlisted by the committee for Grace’s freedom to clear her name, but as their sessions grow longer and Dr Jordan becomes more invested in her story, it grows more and more unclear as to whether Grace can be trusted with her own story.
This framing device allows the first half of the series to be dominated by Grace’s recollection of her story, punctuated only by brief scenes with Dr Jordan serving to remind us of the present. Yet this is in the series’ favour: Grace’s dramatic story of her immigration to Canada with her family, the close friendship she develops with fellow servant Mary (Rebecca Liddiard) at her first job in Toronto, and her hasty exit to work for Master Kinnear and Nancy in the country, is fascinating, layered with an enchanting voiceover from Grace as she tells her tale. And as her story becomes more twisted and blood-soaked, the viewer becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about Grace, just as Dr Jordan does: is she guilty? Is she mad? Is she both?
Sarah Gadon is absolutely captivating as Grace Marks, wide-eyed and seemingly innocent, yet with a hidden coldness and darkness to her that the audience can sense just under the surface, anticipating its reveal.
However, it is Dr Jordan’s side of the story, the present, which is Alias Grace’s downfall. The series’ reliance on Grace’s story leaves his character woefully underdeveloped, and his interactions with the committee and his odd sexual dreams surrounding Grace, the few pieces of character we discover about him, are so few and far between until the final episodes that they seem almost unnecessary to begin with. His character is simply there, as are most others, to facilitate Grace’s incredible story.
With such an intriguing first two episodes setting the stage, Alias Grace settles into its groove through the middle, but just as you think you know what you’re watching, the final episode goes off the rails with shock and surprise, leaving you wanting just one more episode to process what in the hell you just discovered. Whilst not entirely earned, the twist is worth it, especially for a series that leaves you in the dark for so long.
Certainly, a different way to end what starts off as such a straightforward period murder mystery, Alias Grace is an electric six episodes driven by the pursuit of truth and a hell of a main character, but which could’ve been more.