From Servitude to Slaughter (Series Review: “Alias Grace”)


A period drama ripped from the headlines of one of the most notorious murders in Canada, and the galvanizing young woman at the center of the story whose shocking deeds may have justified an early application of the criminal insanity defense. This is Alias Grace. 

SnapShot Plot

Alias Grace is a new 6-part original series on Netflix featuring a mesmerizing performance by Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method) as Grace Marks, a poor young Irish immigrant who was convicted in 1843 for the brutal murder of her employer and his housekeeper. The story picks up after Grace has spent 15 years in prison, when a kind young psychiatrist named Dr. Simon Jordan (played by Edward Holcroft) is brought in to analyze the prisoner in order to establish psychiatric grounds upon which to finally release her. The plot unfolds in a series of one-on-one interviews in which Grace – in a series of flashbacks – recounts her immigration to America and her subsequent life as a housemaid leading up to the brutal murders for which she has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. As we witness the litany of abuses (both emotional and physical) that constitute Grace’s treatment at the hands of her own father as well as various employers, we can’t help but identify with her as a sympathetic protagonist. Hell, I was wondering how she restrained herself from justifiable manslaughter by the end of episode one. But of course the nagging question at the heart of Alias Grace remains: Is she a victim or a monster? Maybe more to the point, perhaps she is mostly an avenging angel?



Parting Shot

Although based on actual events, the Netflix Canadian production is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, whose literary dance card must be quite full with the resurgent interest in her books driven by the success of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Canadian director, Mary Harron (I Shot Andy WarholAmerican Psycho; and The Notorious Bettie Page) directed Alias Grace from a screenplay by respected actor/director/writer, Sarah Polley (Away From Her; Stories We Tell.) In fact, Atwood herself can be spotted in a supporting role, as well as famed “visceral” horror director, David Cronenberg. The scenes that take place in the prison evoke a particularly somber realism, and no doubt, as they were filmed on location at Kingston Penitentiary where the real Grace Marks was incarcerated.

It’s impossible to deconstruct the character of Grace Marks without taking into account the sexual and physical abuses she suffered at the hands of men. On that level, her predicament is of course an example of the abuse of power taken to a degree at which the most aberrant reaction occurs. Her position in the world – a poor immigrant with no resources or support group to ease her assimilation to a new country – also speaks to the degree of gender inequality which was rampant and far-reaching in the period. But notwithstanding the Feminist lens through which Alias Grace is most certainly viewed, isn’t it more simply gripping to let Grace’s hypnotic rendering of her story weave its spell as we are enthralled by her lovely and lilting voice, murderess or not?

Alias Grace is a Netflix original series.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters’ rights on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:

Leave a Reply