Is 'Alias Grace' Based On A True Story? Here's The Background To Netflix's Newest Series


Netflix's newest original series offering for November comes out Friday, Nov. 3rd, 2017. Based on Margaret Atwood's 1996 novel of the same name, Alias Grace is set in the 1840s in Canada, along Ontario's southern border, in and around the areas of Kingston and Toronto. With the novel's adaptation by writer and director Sarah Polley, and actress Sarah Gadon's role as the titular Grace, the historical setting of the novels has fans wondering: Is Alias Grace based on a true story? Or, is it just a fantasy set in the past, instead of in the near future, like Atwood's other novel adapted for streaming, The Handmaid's Tale?

Unlike The Handmaid's Tale, which is a complete fantasy marketed under what used to be referred to as "speculative fiction" but nowadays finds itself shelved in the "dystopian" section, Alias Grace is, in fact, based on historical events.

Here's the full synopsis:


Thomas Kinnear was an actual person who lived in Toronto, Canada, in the 1800s. A wealthy Ontario farmer in what was then referred to as "the Province of Upper Canada," the murders, which took place on July 23, 1843, were, at the time, the equivalent of the 1990s Menendez Murders or the OJ trial. As Atwood puts in the novel's postscript:

Here's a short YouTube video on the murder and subsequent trial.

TownRichmondHill on YouTube

Marks' life before entering into the service of the Kinnear household had not been an easy one:

Most people nowadays accept Irish people to be as European as any other nationality. But back in the 1800s, during a time when "racial theory" was considered a serious science instead of just a polite way to be racist in public, to be Irish was to be considered inferior, which is why Grace Marks did her best to never mention it.

This opinion of the Irish as some sort of automatic underclass became an increasing problem as the Great Irish Famine of the 1800s got worse and immigrants crossed the seas to the Americas in search of a new life.


All that being said, the actual story shown on screen, of Dr. Simon Jordan and his research into the case, and into Marks' psychological state, is all fictionalized. Even though (spoiler alert!) Marks was eventually pardoned in real life, none of what happened in Jordan's study actually occurred.

Still, as a storytelling conceit, and a way to examine one of the most notorious murders of the time period, it is an excellent read and an excellent miniseries.

All six episode of Alias Grace will be available starting Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. The novel is available at bookstores and on Amazon.