Miniseries Review: 'Alias Grace' (2017)


Netflix's gripping adaptation of Margaret Atwood's historical fiction novel centers on a young woman named Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon). Grace has been in prison, most of her adult life for her conviction in a brutal double murder.

Questions remain as to her guilt or innocence and in a biting narration, Grace explains why. For a myriad of reasons, she doesn't come across as a cold-blooded killer, or at least the one we typically expect to find next to such a dire description.

Having gained the avid support of some powerful people, the hyper-intelligent Grace may be on the verge of freedom. That is if a doctor (Edward Holcroft) sent to assess her, agrees to help support her petition to be pardoned.

Dr. Jordan is immediately enraptured by Grace's account of her life story and she has a mighty compelling one. Grace is an Irish immigrant, whose harrowing tale includes her move to Canada, beautiful friendship with a fellow servant, and her job in a doomed household.

"Alias Grace" is one of the smartest series of 2017. Savvy, sly, and haunting, director Mary Harron immediately draws you into this all-encompassing story.

As she did in "The Moth Diaries," Harron and actress Sarah Gadon forge a strong collaborative effort, giving Sarah Polley's magnificent script room to breathe and Gadon the chance to slice through it with her cutting expressions, and impeccable line delivery. 

For years, Sarah Gadon has been a recognizable screen presence with quite a few noteworthy performances to her name. As she demonstrated in "A Dangerous Method," "Enemy," and "The Ninth Life of Louis Drax" (among several other films), Gadon is an exceptional actress.

So it comes as little surprise that her performance in "Alias Grace" is spellbinding. Starring as the lead and with such a magnificent performance, Grace Marks could be Gadon's breakthrough role, as it feels tailor-made for her talents.

As Grace, Gadon is fragile and fierce, shy and overt, while alternatively naive with a hint of cunning. Gadon’s facial expressions shift with what appears to be effortless ease throughout the series, as Grace takes on several emotional forms.

Without saying a word, Gadon plays with the audience, allowing us to question Grace's true identity, and leaving us to wonder if she is comprised of every contradictory piece that is revealed.

As the man hanging on Grace's every word, Edward Holcroft provides a thoughtful ear as Dr. Jordan. While the role is somewhat limited in the first couple of episodes, Holcroft elevates it by remaining present, offering tender reactions to Grace's heartrending tale.

The role is as subtle as it crucial. Dr. Jordan is the sounding board for Grace's story, and Holcroft's eyes pool with sincere empathy for her and everything she has endured. In the midst of this, Gadon and Holcroft form a unique screen chemistry that keeps viewers guessing as to where it will lead their characters.

Will the good doctor's pragmatic sensibility win out over his sympathy for Grace and her lurid account of a brutal existence? In the world of "Alias Grace," people are always battling their natures, either working overtime to conceal it or overindulging it to their detriment.

Sarah Polley's spectacular script shines like gold. The dialogue is slick and as sharp as a razor's edge. It is not stuffed but seamlessly sewn into the series. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk given the elaborate monologues that punctuate the series, and it is lucratively managed.

As “Alias Grace” hurtles towards its conclusion, the truth as to Grace’s guilt or innocence becomes even more of a mystery. While the guilt of the real Marks, will likely remain an eternal one, this fictionalized portrait of her, provides a bit more clarity. Like Dr. Jordan, you yearn for her innocence and fear her guilt. 

“Alias Grace” explores what may be a cat-and-mouse game, alongside a character study and enthralling psychological thriller, and it wears all of these hats with exceptional style.

Rating: 9/10

"Alias Grace" is currently streaming on Netflix.

[Featured Image by Netflix]

Want to read more of my thoughts on "Alias Grace," especially regarding the ending? Then check out out this two-part feature on the Inquisitr. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.