On Netflix’s new miniseries Alias Grace, we meet Grace (Sarah Gadon) humbled. It’s been years since her 1843 conviction for murder; she’s escaped death but not suspicion. A psychiatrist (Edward Holcroft) interrogates the former servant about her memories of the deaths of her former employer and his mistress, and Grace picks at her quilting as she answers.
But as we see just how ably Grace can shift between ways of being–from naif to knowing and back–whether to believe her story becomes a less compelling mystery than whether she herself believes it. Is the humility just a pose? (It’s no surprise that the story is so novelistic; it’s an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood.)
Gadon sells every flickering transformation. She’s aided by Mary Harron’s able direction and a juicy script by Sarah Polley. Together, these women have made an Atwood adaptation that’s even more rewarding than Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That show draws upon history to imagine how women’s rights might regress in a dystopia. Alias Grace makes the case more explicitly, showing how dark the past really was by depicting a woman her era could barely contain.
Alias Grace is streaming on Netflix now
This appears in the November 20, 2017 issue of TIME.