This is a Canadian mini series with great pedigree, a Margaret Atwood novel adapted by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron. I’m not sure Canadian television gets much more prestigious than this. (Also, Paul Gross is in it. But of course he is.) Those are some weighty expectations which, fortunately, I was not really acquainted with. And I should note I’ve never read the source material, having only ever read Atwood’s short stories and not any of her novels.
Everything about this is well done, especially for Canadian TV. The cast has plenty of recognizable Canadian faces – including one famous actor I assumed was American – but they are not the central roles, which are left to less well known actors (one of whom appears to be British). As you might expect from the people involved in making it, the cast is a little more elevated than most Canadian TV to this point.
It also looks really good. The sets and settings are believable. And though I know nothing of costumes seem very good as well. The dialogue mostly feels like it could have been spoken during the mid 19th century. What I am trying to say is that the production values are very high. (This might not matter to Americans but, as a Canadian I can swear to you that, for most of my life, Canadian TV was visibly Canadian.)
I’m less sure how I feel about the story. The story is based in a real murder case. It’s at least in part used as a way of discussing how inferior women were to men in society at this time (and in some ways, to this day) while sometimes being credited with more influence than they could ever yield. This aspect of the show is interesting and, at times, extremely compelling. (Such as in Grace’s first job.)
I actually find the story less compelling as it moves towards its climax, when Grace moves out of the city to the estate, and the two biggest actors in the show appear. I’m not super interested in forensic psychiatry, or whatever it was in its earliest form, and I sort of regard the quest for truth in this sense to be foolhardy. I’m not sure the show does enough to make me care whether or not she had a hand in the murders. I find everything else around it more interesting.
Still, it’s well made and well acted and I’m not sure I’ve seen another Canadian TV miniseries like it. So I’m glad that it exists.