Entertainment

Handmaid's Tale shows what could happen to women; Alias Grace shows what did

Alias Grace mini-series arrived at the ideal cultural moment, as North America wakes up to how often powerful men prey on women in their trust, writes Johanna Schneller.

Edward Holcroft as Dr. Simon Jordan in Alias Grace.

Sabrina Lantos / CBC/NETFLIX

Edward Holcroft as Dr. Simon Jordan in Alias Grace.

The Show: Alias Grace, Season 1, Episode 6 (CBC)

The Moment: Scheherazade’s sultans

In 1850s Canada, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) has been spending hours interviewing convicted murderess Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), in an effort to exonerate her. Now he meets with her former attorney (Albert Schultz).

“Well, I see our fascinating Grace has been leading you on a merry chase,” the lawyer says.

“Not so merry,” Jordan replies. “I cannot shake the suspicion she is lying to me.”

“Did Scheherazade lie?” the lawyer asks grandly. “Perhaps Grace needed to be telling you just what she told you to achieve the desired end.”

“Which is?” Jordan asks.

“To keep the sultan amused,” the lawyer says.

“Amusing me won’t get her out of prison,” Jordan says.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the lawyer asks. “The poor creature has fallen in love with you.” He sips sherry. “I had the same experience myself. One hand placed on her, she would have thrown herself into my arms.”

No one could have anticipated it, but this six-part mini-series, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, arrived at the ideal cultural moment, as North America wakes up to how often powerful men prey on women in their trust.

As its screenwriter Sarah Polley has said, it feels right that The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace both aired in this, the year of Trump. The former shows what could happen to women. The latter shows what did.

Note: If you’re planning to binge this on demand, do it quickly — it’s about to drop on U.S. Netflix, which means it will disappear from Canadian screens for several months.

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