Alias Grace – Part 3

CBC’s Alias Grace
Part 3
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley

* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 6.53.22 PMDr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) considers the sanity of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), speaking with the Reverend (David Cronenberg). He thinks about the death of Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), how Grace had an auditory hallucination, had amnesia later. Quite the enigma, this woman. Plus, he’s only got half the story. We, the audience, have seen how she withholds certain bits of information, telling him what she thinks will be best, or will serve her best.
Meanwhile, the doctor’s got his own troubles, mental ones. Navigating Mrs. Humphrey (Sarah Manninen) at the house where he stays, his daydreams of longing for his current patient, the so-called murderess Ms. Marks. When the doc sees her again, she speaks of being mistreated by the guards, but she’s more interested in the “dark circles” under his eyes, why he’s not sleeping. It’s a case of the doctor becoming a patient, patient becoming doctor, if only briefly.
Love all the visual stuff going on, the quick edits of Grace’s ACTUAL memories, as opposed to the edited ones she presents to her doctor. We see the various acts leading up to the death of Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), her body being tossed down into a cellar. Then we’re back to her and Dr. Jordan, talking about Mary, the poor young woman’s death. As well as what later went on at the Parkinson house. Mrs. Parkinson (Martha Burns) herself making her “swear on the Bible” that even if she knows who impregnated her friend, she will not tell; this comes with better wages, and a shining reference wherever she might find employment when she leaves that house.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 6.53.54 PMBut goddamn George (Will Bowes) still lurked, his mother knowing silently he was the one who effectively sent Mary to her grave. He tried hard to get in bed with the girl, sometimes trying to open her locked door at night. Most of all Grace knew that “once youre found with a man in your room, youre the guilty one, no matter how they got in.” And sooner or later, George was going to get inside. Terrifying.
Now we come to see Grace first meeting Nancy. Her master is Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), she’s looking for someone else to work up there, also to keep her company as a single woman with a man around. Y’know, people talk. She also says Mr. Kinnear is a “liberal master,” which feels like an oxymoron.
Grace takes the offer, though she’s warned cryptically about the man. However, thus is the choice of women, especially back then but still today: take what appears the lesser of two male evils in order to escape one male presence. It’s one way of escaping the creeping assault of George.
She gets quite the greeting, when a man accosts her as a “whore” and Mr. Kinnear knocks him out in the road. Oh, so valiant, no? Well, we’ll see. There’s certainly a foreboding, ominous sense of his character, even before he showed up onscreen. Soon Grace arrives at the Kinnear place, where several people work the grounds, including a man named James McDermott (Kerr Logan), and the whole thing just feels uneasy.
More of the divide between what’s said and what is seen, just as it was in the Atwood novel. Grace tells Dr. Jordan about the new house, the cellar, her duties, the others like McDermott employed by Kinnear.
Amongst all this we’re shown a bit of the later horror in a shot of a hand taking the earring out of a bloody ear, no doubt belonging to Nancy at the bottom of the cellar.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 7.15.21 PMAnd so forth is all youre entitled to
At the Kinnear house, Grace is introduced into the little world of that workplace. She sees both temptation and danger in various places, from Nancy’s strange demeanour to the master himself as a bit informal to McDermott seeming like a sensitive Irish dancer out in the barn. An odd place, indeed.
Note: The picture concerning the “apocryphaltale of Susanna, an addition to the Book of Daniel, is an interesting reference. A story of a falsely accused woman. Lying, lecherous old men. Everything ends swell for Susanna. But as it is in the Bible, so it is not in real life; virtue does not always win in the end. Grace is like Susanna, only left in the lurch in her current state after a lifetime of taking men’s shit. There’s also an interesting dichotomy of religion: a working class woman like Grace is unaware of the apocryphal Bible stories, versus Kinnear, a bourgeois man of privilege with access to knowledge, even so far as having a piece of art depicting the story on his wall. This is also where we begin seeing a divide in the house, where Grace starts getting to know James, seeing his view of the world separated into a class hierarchy. Although for all his Marxist ideals, he’s a bit of misogynist bastard, as well.
McDermott: “Never one to lick the boots of the rich
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 7.25.18 PMAnd so it all went for Grace. Work, work, work. In between, bits of intrigue. she also found herself watching McDermott, interested in him when she knew full well he was only trouble, in many shapes and forms. Likewise, Nancy kept her close, in a sort of dominant way of her own. All these forces tearing a woman apart.
Loved this episode! The mini-series gets better with each one. Part 4 comes next, and I’m excited already for more. Sarah Gadon is a revelation. Bless her, and bless the directing-writing team of Mary Harron and Sarah Polley. Fantastic adaptation.

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Alias Grace – Part 1

CBC’s Alias Grace
Part 1
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley

* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.


We begin on Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), speaking about herself through the perspectives of others, as she looks at herself in the mirror. Reeling off the various things people have called her, from “soft in the head” to “an inhuman female demon” among many other names.
How can I be all these different things at once?”
1859, at Kingston Penitentiary. Grace has been there fifteen years. She goes to the Governor’s House, meant as a housekeeper. Although she believes it’s her status as a murderess which fascinates people, they want her around. We see various edits of madness, murder, letters. Now, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) is coming to see Grace in her cell, to see if he can get to the bottom of her case, her mind.


When Dr. Jordan arrives he sees the dichotomy of identity surrounding Grace Marks, that she’s at once apparently the cold-blooded murderess who killed two people, she’s likewise a meek woman, afraid of doctors, one who can appreciate the smell of a fresh apple. This begins a relationship between the two, as he’s there to delve into her psychology; of course this is before psychology meant talking with a therapist, mostly patients being strapped down in asylums, abused mentally and physically. One major reason why Grace is so reluctant to get into conversation with Dr. Jordan.
The doctor begins digging into the trial, about Grace’s claim of seeing James McDermott (Kerr Logan) tossing Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin) into the cellar. He speaks with the Reverend (David Cronenberg) about her, those claims, McDermott’s claim concerning what Grace had done. The Reverend’s only concerned with getting the young woman pardoned, out of that hideous jail. Now, the doc is arranging to try getting Grace back into the Governor’s house, after the fit she threw when a doctor tried measuring her head, so that they might meet outside the jail. This doesn’t particularly help the woman, making other prisoners and the jailers believe she’s seducing the doctor, surely to kill him like she’s done already. Poor Grace, indicted in the media, let alone the courts. Her reputation precedes her, when much of it might not even be true.
Note: The quilt was a great device in the novel, marking the chapters, taking us into the story on a whole other level. Margaret Atwood’s writing shines through even in this adaptation; she is a wholly unique writer, why she’s a literary treasure in Canada.
As Dr. Jordan takes a crack at opening the secrets kept in Grace’s mind, the viewer is offered the other side, seeing what she’s thinking while she gives her answers to him. Some of what we see appears to be what she’s thinking; other times her answers differ greatly from what she’s TRULY thinking.
Saying what you really want brings bad luck
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 2.44.53 PMGrace takes the doctor back through her past, coming from Northern Ireland as a Protestant family, poor, driven out by Catholic violence. We see them mistreated, looked down upon simply for being Irish, and with an English father no less. They took a boat across the ocean. A rough journey below deck, as people vomit, pass out drunk, fight, shit, all the while dealing with storms, rats, scurvy, and worse. Grace compared her journey in that “slum in motion” to Jonah in the belly of that great whale, who had it easy by himself, rather than stuffed together with tons of others in those wretched conditions. Worse, her mother was ill and getting sicker all the time. Until one morning Grace woke next to her cold corpse.
The hardest part for her was the old wives tale that the spirit couldn’t be free if a window wasn’t opened for it to escape, something that obviously was foregone under the deck of a ship on the Atlantic. But she survived the remainder of the journey to Toronto, where she and her family saw the mix of culture already pouring in from the ports.
Things were no better when they settled in. Grace’s father called her terrible things, beat her unconscious. He did worse than that, as well, lusting after his own daughter like a lecherous old drunk. Life, in general, for Grace meant survival. She actually showed great restraint in not murdering her disgusting father.
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 3.06.24 PMSoon enough, Grace was kicked out of the house, made to make a wage; not just that, her father expected her to sent money back home. So, she packed the few little things she owned and left by herself. Out into the unknown of Toronto in the mid-1800s. She found herself work as a housekeeper for the Parkinsons, where she first met Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), the two fast becoming close friends. Mary tells her all about the rebellion “against the gentry.” This has been causing plenty of chaos, in public and private.
Mary: “The difference between ignorant and stupid is that ignorant can learn
After Grace’s talk with the doctor, she must return to life at the penitentiary, quilting by night in candlelight. Left with her memories of the trial, of all that’s happened. She talks about the media, how everything that she said was “twisted around” by the papers, no matter if it were truth. And this is all leading her to an epiphany, about how she’s perceived, how she can mould that perception, or at least try to, anyways. She also understands how the media, the rumours, all of it can tear a person apart, and in a sense harden them.
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 3.21.38 PMBeautiful opener! This is my personal favourite Margaret Atwood book, so to see it as a miniseries, and looking so good out of the gate, I’m tickled. Hope to see more of the excellent characterisation in the next episode, Grace Marks is a tricky character. Even Atwood’s chaged her view on the woman over time. So, bring on more good writing, more intensity, lots of drama.
Part 2 comes next.