Review: ‘Alias Grace’ Sews a Transfixing True-Crime Quilt


This provides stress and calculation to the flashback narrative. As Grace traces her route from a childhood of abuse to her final fateful posting, she’s gauging what Dr. Jordan may wish to hear, feeling his response, titrating her response.

Is she harmless, responsible, loopy? “Alias Grace” is much less about discovering the definitive fact than watching Grace really feel her technique to the reply that would save her.

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“Alias Grace” is a narrative about storytelling — one character compares Grace with Scheherazade — which makes Ms. Gadon important to its success. She is mesmerizing. She performs Grace convincingly as a timid little one and a toughened inmate, and she or he brings each of them to Grace’s cautious testimony.

The novel by Ms. Atwood (who has a bit half as “Disapproving Woman”) is a problem to adapt visually. It’s as inner and retrospective as “Handmaid’s” is propulsive, although each protagonists are slyly defiant. The screenwriter, Sarah Polley (who tailored a narrative from the Canadian creator Alice Munro into the movie “Away from Her”), turns it right into a sinuous, layered script that’s always conscious of what’s being mentioned, to whom and why.

Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) directs the sequence dynamically. In an early sequence, Grace’s meditates on the curious phrase “celebrated murderess” over fast cuts of the crime — a physique tumbling to the ground, a strip of material tightening round a throat.

For all that, “Alias Grace” isn’t overly brutal. It’s an exquisitely woven material with blood staining the corners. The violence is usually within the language, as when a servant lady describes a demise scene — the results of an unlawful abortion — as smelling like a butcher store.

You might nearly mistake the sequence for a nostalgic interval piece, as when a bushy-bearded Zachary Levi (“Chuck”) enters as a silver-tongued peddler, or when Grace befriends Mary (Rebecca Liddiard), a feisty, politically conscious servant who fatefully attracts the curiosity of one among her employer’s sons. (The sequence follows Netflix’s roughed-up “Anne With an E,” which surfaced the darkish subtext of “Anne of Green Gables,” one other story of 19th-century Canadian girlhood.)

The sequence is aware of sophistication — there’s just a little primer on colonial Canadian populism — and of how patriarchy pits ladies towards ladies, like Nancy Montgomery (Ms. Paquin), the housekeeper and jealous lover of Grace’s employer, who terrorizes the employees under her.

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Above all, “Alias Grace” is about how males abuse energy over ladies, and the way that energy is all the time current, even when the boys aren’t. It’s current in one thing as innocuous as a marriage quilt, which Grace likens to a battle flag. A mattress might appear to be a spot of relaxation, she tells Dr. Jordan, however “there are many dangerous things that need take place on a bed.”

It’s tempting to think about this sequence, like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as particularly well timed, with in the present day’s revelations of badual abuse in locations of energy. But to say that may counsel that there have been moments when these concepts wouldn’t be well timed.

That doesn’t appear to be the message of the Year of Atwood, with “Grace” and “Handmaid” standing like beacons centuries aside. Look again on the calendar, they are saying, and look ahead. The 12 months adjustments. The time doesn’t.

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