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Ed Power on the latest hit Margaret Atwood adaptation, Alias Grace.

With two TV adaptation­s of her work gaining swooning reviews it has been the year Margaret Atwood became the most influentia­l author in the world. Words Ed Power


It has been the year of Hollywood scandal, of American “carnage”, of the unmasking of Big Tech as enabling tool of dystopian takeover. So it is both quixotic and absolutely appropriat­e that 2017 should also have seen Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood hailed as the great seer of our time, with two television adaptation­s of her work taking the temperatur­e of a troubled world. The first of those was obviously The Handmaid’s

Tale, the future-shock patriarcha­l parable in which women are recategori­sed as reproducti­ve chattels. Produced by the obscure American streaming network Hulu – and aired on Channel 4 in this part of the world – it was not a comforting watch but it was absolutely the show we needed. T

The Handmaid’s Tale duly swept the boards at the Emmys, becoming the first streaming series to gain the coveted best drama gong (from under the outraged nose of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos – who promptly ordered his minions to bring him “the next Game Of Thrones”).

“It is first and foremost a feminist story,” said Mad

Men’s Elisabeth Moss, who executive produced the series and played audience surrogate Offred. “I play a woman who has had her child and her family taken away from her, and all of her rights as a woman stripped and who is essentiall­y a prisoner. … it was also a human story in the sense that there are other groups – other races, colours and creeds – who are punished and maligned and are not given the right to be heard as well.”

Now comes a six part retelling of Atwood’s 1996 true crime meditation Alias Grace. Based on a real life Nineteenth century murder mystery, it tells of a downtrodde­n Irish servant girl alleged to have bumped off her Toronto master and mistress. The killings were a sensation in Canada – not least because of the gender of the alleged perpetrato­r. Could a woman have committed so “masculine” a depravity?

Sarah Polley’s adaptation is as beautifull­y rendered as you would expect of a “peak TV” drama airing on Netflix (having originally gone out in Canada on CBC). However, there’s a sticking point, for Irish audiences at least, as the “Irish” accent of Grace (Sarah Gadon) is cringeful with rocket-boots on.

That’s ironic as Polley has spoken of the resonances between anti-Irish sentiment in 1800s Canada and the demonising of migrants today. Irish viewers will feel that the message might have resonated more strongly if the lead character – played by a Canadian – didn’t sound as if she was choking down on a bowl of Lucky Charms.

Still, there’s no arguing with the dramatic punch of the show – or of the story’s contempora­ry parallels.

“To be a woman in that time, or any time, there are parts of your personalit­y and responses to things that you’re expected to suppress,” Polley told the New York Times. “So what happens to all that

“It is first and foremost a feminist


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Alias Grace
Serve the servants: Alias Grace

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