With today’s #spoiler culture, most moviegoers, myself included, seem to want to know less and less about something before they watch it. One of the fun parts about TIFF is that this is VERY easy to do. Going into Alias Grace all I knew was that it was a period piece starring Sarah Gadon, based on a Margaret Atwood novel and directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho). Sold! What more does one need to know?
Turns out I was in store for a different kind of surprise.
I should have caught on by the somewhat generic title sequence and CBC’s involvement that this was not the movie I thought it was going to be. I was too distracted by other Canadian names coming at me like Anna Paquin, David Croneberg (who acts in it), Sarah Polley (who wrote and produced the adaptation), and Paul Gross (who is okay I guess).
Sarah Gadon is captivating from the start and the setup is brilliantly executed. Some nice cross cutting introduces us to Grace Marks, a murderess who has been incarcerated in the Kingston penitentiary for 15 years, while also showing small glimpses of the crime for which she was convicted. She agrees to tell her story to a young doctor (Edward Holcroft), and the table is set for a murderous tale.
The drama continues as we learn of Marks’ difficult journey from Ireland to Canada, but then slows down once she arrives in Toronto and the story begins to focus on her friendship with a kind girl named Mary. It was a little over an hour into the screening when I realized that far much still had to happen in this story to wrap it up in the 20 odd minutes left in its 90 minute runtime. I thought it odd that we hadn’t yet been introduced to Anna Paquin’s character, whom we know from shots of her as a corpse will be the eventual victim. And who was that guy we saw get hanged that we’re told was Grace Marks’ apparent accomplice in the crime? Even the extremely punctual Paul Gross hadn’t shown up yet.
It was around this point that I clued in that I wasn’t watching a movie, but the first part (of six) in a miniseries. This would have been obvious if I’d noticed that Alias Grace is playing as part of TIFF’s Primetime program. Now in its third year, Primetime aims to shed light on the growing importance of upcoming television series. Unlike other festivals, TIFF is embracing this maturing art form.
So well done to CBC/ Netflix for successfully blurring the lines between film and TV even further, and to TIFF for programming it, but mostly to all the creative Canadians who made most of what I’ve seen of Alias Grace so far just really damned good. You fooled me, and I’m looking forward to watching the rest of your long movie show.