Netflix's new drama Alias Grace has a lot of truth behind it. The miniseries is based on Margaret Atwood's book of the same name, which itself was also based on the real-life murder of a Canadian farmer and his housekeeper. Though the true story is shrouded in mystery, Atwood kept many of the characters the same as the real-life players — Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery were the two murder victims, and Grace Marks and James McDermott were those convicted of the crime (Marks was later pardoned). But there's one more character whose name isn't as well-known as the others. Is Dr. Simon Jordan from Alias Grace a real person, or was he a fictionalized character Atwood used to further her book's plot?
According to a 1996 book review of Alias Grace from the New York Times, Dr. Jordan is indeed a fictional character, used mostly as a plot device that allows Marks to tell her story to another person, and in turn tell it to readers. Dr. Jordan serves a similar purpose in the Netflix adaptation, in which the character is played by Edward Holcroft, perhaps best known for his role in the Kingsman movie franchise. Dr. Jordan, in the book and the show, is a student of the human mind — hired by people who were convinced that Marks was innocent in the hopes that he could examine her, talk to her, and get a story out of her that would aid in her release from prison. Holcroft has praised the script, written by the show's writer and producer Sarah Polley, as something that really drew him in and helped immerse him in the role.
"It's very rare when you read scripts that the world the writer has created on the page, that you feel it, and you can sense it, and you're almost in it when you're reading," Holcroft said in a video from Red Carpet News TV. "I bought into that world. I was living there.... and that's really a tell-tale of a really amazing writer."
Dr. Jordan also acts as a potential love interest for Marks in the book, according to the Times review, though it hints that it's not necessarily one that readers would expect. Holcroft himself has said that he thinks of the plot between the pair as a love story. He made it clear that the writing between the two characters is something that he believes will be compelling to watch.
"With Sarah [Polley]'s writing, the relationship between Grace and Simon was a very real one," he said at the Toronto International Film Festival following the Alias Grace premiere, according to another Red Carpet News video. "I saw the relationship between Simon and Grace — it was a romance, it was a love story to me. Amongst all the sort of terrible events that happen around it, there was, at the base of it, which I thought was moving."
It seems as though a fictional character may have been exactly what a story like Alias Grace needed — obviously, the compelling true events transpired so long ago that no primary source could have advised Atwood on any aspect of the story, and if Marks herself never wrote down or documented her own account of things, it'd be difficult to illustrate her feelings in a book. Dr. Simon gives both the book and the series someone who's a little bit on the audience's side — he wants to hear her story and prods her to go on. By telling it to him, in a way, Marks is really telling it to the rest of us as well.
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