It’s been a banner year for Margaret Atwood. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is fresh off its Golden Globes wins with a second season set for release later this year. Just last week, Paramount Television and Anonymous Content acquired the rights to adapt Atwood’s “MadAddam” trilogy into a television series. While you wait for those, let’s revisit another Atwood adaptation that missed most radars when it was released in November.
Netflix’s limited series “Alias Grace” is based on the novel of the same name. While “The Handmaid’s Tale” provides a cautionary look into a possible future, “Alias Grace” brings to our screens the very real past. It’s equal parts historical drama and true crime.
In the 1840s, the titular Grace Marks (in an enigmatic turn from Sarah Gadon) is tried and convicted of murder. There were many, however, who believed she was innocent—or at least that someone so young and beautiful did not deserve to waste away in prison for the rest of her days. A committee seeking a pardon for Grace employ a psychiatrist to determine whether she can be pardoned for insanity.
No one before Dr. Jordan has asked Grace to tell her story—from the beginning, not just the details of the murders. So she tells him, but for Dr. Jordan and the audience, the mystery only deepens. The show withholds a detailed account of the murders on purpose. You must decide for yourself whether you believe Grace. Perhaps she is the celebrated murderess, or it could be that she was only an unwitting accessory.
It’s a why-done-it rather than a who-done-it, but more than that, “Alias Grace” is a story about perception and truth. What is real, and what is fabricated? Is it a lie if that’s the way you truly remember it? Moreover, does the truth matter at all if there is no way to set it right?
Perhaps the most important question “Alias Grace” asks is this: Who gets to tell the story? Today, that is a fraught topic, but one we ought to be considering.
It is worth noting that women did tell this particular story. Each episode was written by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron. “Alias Grace” is available to stream on Netflix.