Her first directorial effort, Away From Her, was based on a story by Alice Munro, and now Sarah Polley is turning to another Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, for a film version of Alias Grace.
Atwood's 1996 novel is based around the true story of Grace Marks and James McDermott, two servants in the household of one Thomas Kinnear, who were convicted of his murder, and that of his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, in Canada in 1843. Focusing, obviosuly enough, on Grace, the book is told through the letters of a (fictional) psychologist investigating her claims of amnesia, and through the voice of Grace herself. Not a conventional murder mystery in any sense, Grace's guilt or innocence isn't the point, with Atwood using the case to explore 19th-Century notions of gender and class.
Polley is putting the film together through her Tangled production company, with financing coming through Toronto's Astral Media. Astral programme manager Alan Bacchus says that Alias Grace was the book that originally inspired Polley to take up position behind a camera in the first place. "In her notes to us, she described the personal connection she had to the novel," he reveals. "She's been chasing this book and this story for years."
Bacchus also says that Polley has cited Robert Altman's McCabe And Mrs Miller as a touchstone for the project. Interesting that, since Michael Winterbottom's The Claim, in which Polley starred, also clearly took a leaf or two from Altman's snow-and-mud Western chapbook.
"It's a great next film for her," Bacchus says. "I think it’s an ambitious project for her to take on. It’s darker material. It can be shocking. It can be brutal... She’s going for an idiosyncratic take on a period film, and we believe her stature can bring strong international talent to the project.”
Alias Grace is published in paperback in the UK by Virago.