tv series

Sewing quilts and spinning tales in Netflix’s stunning new miniseries ‘Alias Grace’

The mini-series is based on the award-winning 1996 novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Based on the award-winning 1996 novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace is a beguiling tale of murder, mystery and memory. A work of historical fiction, the novel is inspired by a true case of double murders committed in nineteenth-century Canada. The new miniseries is a splendid adaptation of a masterful novel. Alias Grace was first aired in Canada in early October and is now available worldwide on Netflix.

Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) and stablehand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) are convicted of murdering their employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin) in 1843. While McDermott hangs, Grace is spared the noose, gaining instead a tormented life sentence split between an inhuman prison for women and an asylum in Ontario. She remembers nothing of the crime for which she is serving time, but has been in prison long enough to lose hope of freedom and a future.

Unlike the author’s previously adapted-for-TV novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was set in a dystopian future, Alias Grace is situated in a dark chapter from the past that has been recreated to tell a story of crime, friendship, and subversion of patriarchy from inside wooden boxes designed for torture.

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Alias Grace.

At the start of the six-episode miniseries, Grace meets Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), a psychoanalyst. Jordan is researching Grace’s case and is hoping to help revive her memory of the crime to determine whether she truly an amnesiac or, as almost everyone believes, a liar. Grace tells him the story of her life and he listens – engrossed and smitten by her voice and enthralled by her resilience in the face of her hardships. They meet every day at the house of a governor who believes Grace to be innocent. While they talk, she sews quilts and spins her story – long and inviting and full of every possible emotion. Jordan can find no escape or respite, unable to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Producer Sarah Polley’s masterful writing transforms a brilliant novel into a captivating television experience. The attention to detail and aesthetic treatment place the show squarely within Atwood’s poetic universe. It is a story of a difficult time, made beautiful by Polley’s writing and Mary Harron’s flawless direction. Sarah Gadon gives an incredible a-star-has-arrived performance – hypnotic, powerful and in control of every frame in which she is present.

Grace is a pitiable child in charge of her siblings, a loyal friend, an honest worker, an innocent bystander, a blushing young woman, a merciless butcher, and a murderess – she is all or nothing. During her time in jail and at the asylum, she suffers unimaginable odds. But by talking to Jordan about parsnips, word associations and dark cellars, she regains control of her narrative. By not letting Jordan gaze into her mind, Grace keeps what is most private to herself. In a world in which everything has been taken from her, this is the biggest source of power that she may hold. While we get glimpses into her mind, she never truly lets the audience in either. Alias Grace is the story of Grace Marks and she intends to tell it, for once.

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Margaret Atwood and Sarah Polley on Alias Grace.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.