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‘Alias Grace:’ How a Series Set in the 1800s Can Be Completely Contemporary

"I loved the material, though I was kind of scared of it."

With Netflix’s new true-crime miniseries Alias Grace, “we meet Grace (Sarah Gadon) humbled,” writes Daniel D’Addario. “It’s been years since her 1843 conviction for murder; she’s escaped death but not suspicion. A psychiatrist (Edward Holcroft) interrogates the former servant about her memories of the deaths of her former employer and his mistress, and Grace picks at her quilting as she answers.

“But as we see just how ably Grace can shift between ways of being–from naif to knowing and back–whether to believe her story becomes a less compelling mystery than whether she herself believes it. Is the humility just a pose? (It’s no surprise that the story is so novelistic; it’s an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood.).” To read the full article, click here.  

“But beyond the story’s titillating mystery, [screenwriter] Sarah Polley notes, is an ode to the power of the subjective female narrative as well as an exploration of the ripple effects of trauma,” writes Phoebe Reilly. “‘My main objective was to track a woman’s journey through a man’s world where she’s endlessly harassed, abused – and expected to remain silent,’ says Polley.

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“Director Mary Harron was similarly daunted. ‘It’s like directing three movies,’ she says. ‘I loved the material, though I was kind of scared of it. You could say it’s a feminist reworking, but it’s not at all simplistic.’ Polley says she handed over the directorial reigns because ‘the reader in me won out over the filmmaker. I was excited to see it come to fruition through the eyes of someone that I respected.'” To read the full article, click here

“I knew nothing about the story going in, I had no preconceptions about it,” Harron tells Katherine Brooks. “But it’s such a fantastic plot. You get totally drawn into this world. I’ve always loved ambiguity and mystery, and also a female character who suffers a lot but isn’t conventionally, like, ‘Oh, poor Grace.’ She’s very complicated. Is she good? Is she bad? Have the things she’s suffered turned her into a murderer? All of these things. I was very drawn into the world right away.

“Sarah Polley said that Alias Grace is where we come from, and Handmaid’s Tale is where we might go,” Harron continues. “It’s important politically to know where you come from in an accurate way. The same thing is happening with how we look at slavery or the Confederacy and the Civil War. It’s important for us to dig back and say, ‘We have certain versions of the past, but are there other versions we need to be aware of?’

“In this case, there’s a somewhat idealized view of the country house, and the happy servants who love their masters and the masters who care for their servants. Is this true? No! Those servants were unbelievably exploited. Especially the young women, who were sexual prey to all the young men. They’d get pregnant, and that was the end of them. What was it like to get an abortion back then? Well, we’ll show you. It’s not even that long ago, and that’s what our society’s grown out of. We need to remind ourselves of that.” To read the full interview, click here