Sarah Polley’s Alias Grace adaptation the right fit for Canadian TV

She spent her own money to buy the rights when they came available. Then, she spent nearly two years writing, often in snatched hours during her children’s naps.

Sarah Polley, the Oscar-nominated, Canadian writer/director/actress, spent 20 years thinking about how to adapt Margaret Atwood’s sprawling novel Alias Grace for the screen. She spent her own money to buy the rights when they came available. Then, she spent nearly two years writing, often in snatched hours during her children’s naps.

Somewhere in the middle, as she surveyed her 700-page feature draft, it hit her that perhaps the future of this Canadian film was … television. She honed it to a six-hour limited series, which she finally believed captured the scope of the Giller Prize-winning, based-on-a-true-story novel of an unreliable narrator recalling murders she may or may not have committed, covering 30 years, multiple locations and shifting points of view. And then Polley promised herself something: “I will not make this for less than $30-million.”

No one likes to talk about money, but it’s vitally important to, especially this week – dubbed Screen Week – as the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television hands out its Screen Awards in 134 categories over four nights. (It culminates Sunday with a live CBC-TV broadcast hosted by Howie Mandel.)

It’s obvious that money is a key to excellence. The most-nominated series and films this year – and not coincidentally, the Canadian fare the public is most familiar with – are the ones that had enough money to buy the writing time and production values it took to make them good. In series, Orphan Black had 14 nominations; Schitt’s Creek, 13; Vikings, nine; Frontier, seven. In feature films, It’s Only the End of the World had nine and Race had eight.

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