‘Alias Grace’is solid and well-made piece for TV

Business Daily (Kenya) - - THE WEEKENDER -

Mar­garet At­wood’s books have been cat­nip for TV pro­duc­ers in 2017. First there was the sub­lime Hand­maid’s Tale on Hulu, then Wan­der­ing Wenda on CBC, and now Sarah Polley’s small screen adap­ta­tion of Alias Grace for Net­flix, di­rected by Mary Har­ron.

We’re in dense, com­plex ter­ri­tory with this one. Alias Grace is one of those multi-lay­ered, deeply tex­tured sto­ries that keep English pro­fes­sors in busi­ness.

There’s sym­bol­ism aplenty, psy­cho­log­i­cal game play­ing, shaggy dog sto­ries, and a cou­ple of con­tested Mur­ders Most Hor­rid on which a lec­turer can chew se­mes­ter after se­mes­ter.

And that’s be­fore we get onto the main nar­ra­tor, the epony­mous Grace Marks, who is about as re­li­able as a 4G phone sig­nal in ru­ral Ire­land (which also hap­pens to be where her life started). Not that she had a smart­phone — we’re in mid19th Cen­tury here. The set-up is as clear as her story is opaque.

We meet Grace in her early thir­ties. For the past 15 years she has been an in­mate at a pen­i­ten­tiary in Canada hav­ing been found guilty of tak­ing part in a dou­ble killing. She is a “cel­e­brated mur­der­ess”, which she con­sid­ers a notch up from be­ing sim­ply a cel­e­brated mur­derer.

The vibe is gothic psy­chodrama — think Twin Peaks meets Jane Eyre. Grace tells us her tale through a se­ries of fire­side chats she has with Dr Si­mon Jor­dan.

He is a young, earnest psy­chi­a­trist hired by the lo­cal wor­thies (led by Rev­erend Ver­ringer, played by a mut­ton-chopped David Cro­nen­berg) to pro­duce a favourable as­sess­ment of Grace’s men­tal state so she can be par­doned and set free.

He is a de­cent man (up to a point), but bor­ing. He is played with great re­straint by Ed­ward Hol­croft who suc­ceeds in com­mu­ni­cat­ing Jor­dan’s in­ten­sity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in a per­for­mance so di­alled down you fear he might nod off be­tween sen­tences.

Not so the in­scrutable Grace, played with as­sur­ance as both a naïve teenager and marked woman by Sarah Gadon.

She has the fo­cus of a look-out on a street corner, play­ing mind games with her in­quisi­tor whom she ef­fort­lessly wraps around her fin­gers like the thread she uses to end­lessly stitch to­gether quilts. To be hon­est, she does bang on a bit, but then who can blame her when the al­ter­na­tive is a beat­ing at the hands of the bru­tal prison guards who “take plea­sure in the dis­tress of a fel­low mor­tal”.

And so, over the course of six slow-burn episodes, we hear how a quiet Ir­ish girl found her­self locked up be­hind bars in a bru­tal prison in Canada. Preda­tory men play a part, which is very top­i­cal of course, but only be­cause some things never change.

Alias Grace is a solid, well­made piece of tele­vi­sion that doesn’t hide its in­tel­li­gence un­der a bon­net, as cos­tume dra­mas can do. Nor does it at­tempt to keep your at­ten­tion with soap opera style cliff-hang­ers. It is bet­ter than that.

But is it bet­ter than sim­ply read­ing the book? I’m not so sure.


ADAP­TA­TION ‘Alias Grace’ ilm poster.

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