Alias Grace, similar to Margaret Atwood’s other recent adaptation, The Handmaiden’s Tale, is a show more so about subtle performances than grand drama. So prepare for the adjustment.
Creator: Sarah Polley
Sometime around the year 1844, Grace (Sarah Gadon) took part in a murder. Said murder, which should have gotten her sentenced to death, due to her young age led to a life in prison. However, 15 years later, 1859, it seems many want to push for Grace’s release. Of which, multiple things have been tried. Many doctors have been called and all because Grace claims to remember nothing, often people are left perplexed.
After all, Grace seems like a nice enough girl. She doesn’t seem like a murderer to no one she encounters, but it seems may crack this egg. For while the people in the past tried to examine Grace by religious methods or medical ways, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) decides to use psychology. And with the more we hear Grace talk about temptations before the day which changed her life, the more we are led to question if this Irish lass who immigrated to Canada may be as sweet and innocent as she seems. If not, whether she had more to do with the murders than she lets on.
The difference between ignorant and stupid is that ignorant can learn.
There is this movie Cry_Wolf and though it’s not rated too highly, anywhere, there is this one golden moment. It comes towards the end when you gradually see a character’s expression change, and your shock grows with it. Relating that to Alias Grace, the way Gadon expresses herself facially constantly pulls you back and forth between wanting to believe she perhaps isn’t as bad as she seems, to believing she is a well put together psychopath.
This is the ability of Gadon’s charm as she sometimes leads you to believe you are in on the joke when really, she is probably playing you just like everyone else.
Trying to Figure Grace Out
Leading you to go through each sentence as if you were a pensive and meticulous English teacher. For, even though she was likely joking, hearing her talk about pushing her siblings off of a ship, so that there would be less mouths to feed is both alarming and yet understandable – for the times. Then, with her nearly killing her abusive and drunk of a father, again, you can understand why she would do that. Especially since it seems he tried to molest her.
Leading you to believe, maybe Grace was well justified in whatever she did to the woman we repeatedly see get tossed down some stairs. Also, Alias Grace, in general, really pushes the idea that Margaret Atwood is perhaps one of the best writers for women around. For between this and The Handmaid’s Tale, I can’t imagine any actress hearing her work is being adapted and not being ready to do whatever it took to win the role.
Grace’s Interactions with Dr. Jordan
In Grace’s interactions with Dr. Jordan, there is a bit of a stutter. Between them, it seems to be a mental battle. One in which it seems she wants to scare him off, maybe have him think the worse of her, yet at the same time, she doesn’t want to push him so far away. To have someone listen seems like a luxury yet she has experienced the trauma of a psych ward, so she doesn’t want to reveal too much. Something that, as we watch, it is hard to understand if she is playing a game or after 15 years of thinking and perhaps talking to herself, she is relishing in having a sounding board.
And with that in mind, it almost feels like we are within Dr. Jordan’s shoes. We are the ones tasked with judging this woman. One who just seems ill built for the times, yet very capable and willing to cause unease. After all, with all she has been through, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, and just being plain talked about, what has she to lose or fear anymore? She is infamous.
Mary (Rebecca Liddiard)
You know that one character in many shows that their bubbliness just seems infectious. Like they are the type of person you wish was your friend in middle school, high school, or right now? That’s Mary. She is someone who, before the murders, was Grace’s friend and knowing she is dead causes such a pain. Especially as the fear grows that maybe Grace had something to do with it.
On The Fence
While you Are Given Quality Performances, There Isn’t Anything Necessarily Like a Hook
While Sarah Gordon is certainly one to watch out for, as noted in the Indignation review, there isn’t really a true hook. There isn’t that much of a compelling setup to question how involved Grace was in the murders. Nor, as interesting as Grace is, do I feel this is the type of show which will live on even after it ended. To really be something someone uses as an example for one thing or another.
To me, what Alias Grace has is quality without the fixings. There is nothing but straight performances here and if you are the type who needs a little shock, a compelling villain, or something of that nature, this isn’t for you. This very much is a character study type of show and I‘d imagine, if Gadon is incapable of hooking you with her subtlety and mind/word games, you’ll find this to be a period drama which didn’t even have the kindness to give you some nice classical music to fall asleep to.
Overall: Positive (Watch This)
Despite the noted worry that this could be seen as boring for some, I think that will only hold true for those who are well adjusted to the drama of the average network TV show. For those who don’t necessarily require bells, whistles, and over the top villains, who perhaps enjoy an actor working their face without being theatrical, this is for you. And considering Anna Paquin is in it, oh we have so much to look forward to.