A new miniseries called “Alias Grace” is now available to stream on Netflix, and it’s based on a book by the same author as “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Margaret Atwood.
The gothic plot of “Alias” is rooted in history — the true story of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant living in Canada who was convicted in 1843 of murder and sentenced to hang. Both she and her alleged accomplice, James McDermott, were found guilty of killing their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper (and mistress), Nancy Montgomery, but only McDermott ended up at the gallows. Grace, perhaps because she was both young and beautiful, was ultimately given a lighter sentence; after 30 years behind bars, she was released.
In both Atwood’s meticulously researched but fictionalized retelling and the new miniseries, Grace (Sarah Gadon), who’s already incarcerated, ends up describing her life story to a young psychiatrist, Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft). The good doctor becomes taken with this enigmatic yet exceedingly proper woman, who claims she remembers nothing of the murders and pleaded guilty only at her lawyers’ insistence.
“Alias Grace” likely won’t be the last Atwood adaptation we get.
So why is it that, all of a sudden, there’s a resurgence of interest in Atwood’s work?
Even Atwood’s futuristic stories are based on history. In “The Handmaid’s Tale” — a book about women forced to bear children for rich couples in a draconian religious society where the population is dwindling — the horrors are real.
The scripts immediately spoke to director Mary Harron, whom Polley handpicked to spearhead all six episodes of the miniseries.
“Usually when people send me stuff, it feels a bit alien to me,” Harron said. “But it felt as if it could have been written for me.”
Harron, who also directed “American Psycho” and “The Moth Diaries,” has plenty of experience with period films, not to mention female-centric stories, and her movies are remarkably comfortable with ambiguity, especially when it comes to characters who may or may not be insane.