Netflix Review: ‘Alias Grace’ is another great Margaret Atwood adaptation


Credit to Netflix

Dylan Wright, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Netflix has rarely had an outright flop. The shows that debut on the streaming service range from forgettable to outright amazing. “Alias Grace” falls closer to the latter category.

Based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood (the author responsible for “The Handmaid’s Tale”) the show focuses on Grace Marks, played by Sarah Gadon. She has been convicted of the murder of her employer and his lover. Dr. Simon Jordan, played by Edward Holcroft, is tasked with performing a psychiatric evaluation of Marks in the hopes of clearing her of all charges.

The story fluctuates between these “therapy” sessions and Marks’ past, allowing the audience to see what exactly she is telling (or not telling) Jordan. The doctor serves as the audience surrogate, asking the questions they cannot. Each person involved in the story is in the dark about what really happened, creating a fascinating and unique tale.

The cast portrays these characters flawlessly, especially Gadon. She portrays Marks as a person who has seen terrible things in her life in her talks with Jordan, but also pulls off her naive younger self in the flashbacks. The audience sees Marks learn the ways of the world in an often sad and scary fashion. Gadon plays Marks with a sense of restraint, making the audience doubt if she’s truly being honest with the doctor.

Holcroft pulls off the lovestruck doctor, and his curiosity with Marks seems earned and real. The exchanges between the two are riveting, and keep the present day storyline interesting and relevant. Jordan is a character that could come off terribly if portrayed wrong, but Holcroft manages to walk the tightrope between clinical and emotional.

Throughout the course of the series, we mostly see the crime committed in sharp and visceral flashes, allowing the audience to experience the abruptness and violence of the murders. When the show wants to be frightening, it pulls it off spectacularly with horrifying imagery appearing out of nowhere. Credit can be given to director Mary Hannon, whose previous work “American Psycho” made her perfect to direct the six episodes.

Writer Sarah Polley adapts Atwood’s work skillfully, carefully creating a non-linear narrative that is easy to follow and a pleasure to watch. The dark themes of the book are translated well, and the novel is definitely serviced well by this series.

The show revels in keeping the audience in suspense. It tells the audience most of what happens right at the beginning, but shines in how it slowly reveals the bigger picture as the show goes on. What seems like a cut and dry murder is actually more complicated than could be imagined. Seeing a character’s true feelings in quick cutaway scenes works perfectly and the series creates a strong narrative that can be counted among Netflix’s finest.

“Alias Grace” may not receive the accolades that “The Handmaid’s Tale” earned, but the show definitely should be considered a fantastic adaptation of another fantastic novel. Atwood should be proud of the media her books are spawning.

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