An historical drama based on a real life grisly double-murder has become the most relevant show on TV.
Alias Grace is a true-crime story filtered through the female gaze and its timing couldn’t be more perfect.
For the past 20 years, actor-turned-director Sarah Polley has been trying desperately to adapt Margaret Atwood’s book about Grace Marks – a young girl who was convicted of a horrific bloody murder in the mid-1800s – for the small screen.
The miniseries, available on Netflix, (and the book) follows the story of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant who was convicted of murdering her Canadian employer, and his housekeeper and mistress, in 1843.
Listen: Why you need to watch Alias Grace. Post continues after audio…
Marks was only 16 years old at the time of the murders. She would serve 30 years in jail before she was unexpectedly exonerated for the crimes.
Her alleged lover, 20-year-old stable hand James McDermott, would be hanged for the crime.
Marks’ case has attracted attention for almost 200 years because her backstory is not uncommon. In many ways, a number of women can put themselves in Marks’ shoes.
Like many women in history, Marks’ was abused, mistreated and silenced. So much so, that by the time she was 16 years old she inexplicably snapped and committed a crime so brutal, so bloody, it shocked the entire western world.
Her story is even more relevant in 2017 as we witness a slew of young women finally feeling safe enough to come forward to share their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of much more powerful men.
In Atwood’s story – in which she blends fact and fiction – Marks, like many of the young women around her, is a victim of abuse.
Marks was born and raised in Ulster, Northern Ireland. Her early life wasn’t easy – she was one of nine children and her father was an abusive alcoholic.
In 1840, when Marks was just 12 years old, the family boarded a ship and emigrated to Canada. Sadly, her mother died during the journey and was buried at sea.
Once they arrived in Canada, their new life was punctuated by their father’s violent, abusive episodes. Marks’ father repeatedly tried to rape her.
With her mother gone, Marks was left to raise the younger children and protect them from their terrifying, unpredictable father.
When she was 15 years old, Marks’ father called her a ‘slut’ and a ‘no good whore’ and sent her out to work as a servant, with the expectation that she would send most of her $2 per month salary home to the family.
She finally escapes her father but then she's thrown into another frightening, predatory environment.
When Marks' starts working as a servant girl at a large estate, she meets another servant girl called Mary Whitney. The two young women fast become friends but then tragedy strikes. Whitney discovers she's pregnant and she's forced to have an abortion, within 24 hours the young girl is dead.
She was impregnated by one of her wealthy boss' sons, her story was common place at the time.
Not long after she loses Whitney, Marks is offered another job.
Nancy Montgomery, the housekeeper for Thomas Kinnear, a bachelor who lives alone on a huge estate, offers to pay Marks a dollar more each month.
But it proves to be an offer that's too good to be true. After starting work at the estate, Marks discovers that housekeeper Montgomery and Kinnear are having an affair and Montgomery is pregnant with his baby.
And while at first Kinnear seems like the perfect boss, he soon starts to sexual harass Marks as she tries to carry out her duties. This unwanted attention makes Montgomery jealous and she lashes out at the young girl.
After just a few weeks in the house Marks has been harassed, abused and ultimately silenced. She is completely alone, she's vulnerable, and she has no one to protect her.
The tension in the house culminates with the brutal murder of Kinnear and Montgomery at the hands of Marks and McDermott.
There's never been any real explanation for the murders and Marks' part in them. But most people believe the years of abuse Marks suffered at the hands of men contributed to the crime.
Alias Grace illustrates what a woman can be driven to do when she's given no voice and no control over her own destiny.
Ultimately, Alias Grace demonstrates the price a woman will pay for just a moment of freedom.
Love TV? Listen to the latest episode of The Binge.
To read more from Keryn Donnelly, follow her on Facebook.