TV review: Alias Grace, Netflix (4 stars)

TV Review: Alias Grace, Netflix

Adaptation of Margaret Atwood's exploration of crime and punishment starring Sarah Gadon

Traditional folk song 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' plays the viewer out of Sarah Polley and Mary Harron's television adaption of Margaret Atwood's historical crime novel Alias Grace. It's a sly wink to the message that this gripping and engaging six-part series extols about the value and importance of women telling their own stories. The quilting metaphor that appears in the novel is translated to great effect across the series with the significance of their meaning to women throughout history detailed through haunting visuals and physical needlework.

Sarah Gadon stars as the enigmatic Grace Marks who was convicted of the murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1843 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Gadon plays her role with a furtive relish teasing the audience, and the man re-examining her case, Dr Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), with the question of whether she is innocent or guilty of the crimes. The tone recalls David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method in terms of the smart conversations and strong performance from Gadon. Cronenberg even appears as a Reverend and counsel to Dr Jordan.

The series threads together Grace's life story, from her emigration to Canada from Ireland, her brutal upbringing at the hand of an abusive father and world of servitude. It also spends time in her memories and dreams showing startling reflections of the tragedy and difficulties she has faced throughout her lifetime. Treated as an object of curiosity by the prison staff and Dr Jordan, Grace appears to be a product of her time.

Atwood's feminist gaze throughout her body of work has recently been depicted in TV show The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace once again explores how the treatment of women as vessels and pure beings is degrading and harmful. Writer Polley and director Harron defiantly pull apart the male gaze and patriarchy through an unpredictable female protagonist.

Alias Grace is available on Netflix from Fri 3 Nov.

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