TORONTO – Margaret Atwood isn’t celebrating the idea that the election of U.S. President Donald Trump has added a new level of resonance to her work.
The Canadian literary star is at the Toronto International Film Festival promoting the new CBC/Netflix miniseries “Alias Grace,” an adaptation of her 1996 novel about a poor Irish immigrant convicted of killing her employers in 1843.
The show comes on the heels of another series inspired by an Atwood book, the dystopian saga “The Handmaid’s Tale,” about a totalitarian theocracy that makes women property of the state and forces some to bear children for infertile couples. The TV series is up for 13 Emmy Awards on Sunday.
Both series examine the treatment of women and immigrants in society, with “The Handmaid’s Tale” having a particularly chilling effect amid the U.S. battle over rights to birth control and abortion.
“If I had the choice of wallowing in comparative obscurity and not having this government in power, or the present moment, I think I can honestly say at my age I would take the first — because this development is not good for the world,” Atwood, 77, said Wednesday in an interview.
“It’s not good for the world to have a weak United States.”
Oscar-nominated Canadian actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley wrote and produced “Alias Grace,” which is based on the true story of Grace Marks (played by Sarah Gadon), who was freed after 30 years in jail.
Atwood noted the adaptations of both “Alias Grace” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” were in the works before the U.S. election.
“Sarah has been working on ‘Alias Grace’ for what, six years, and thinking about it for 20,” she said. “They were halfway through shooting ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ so it was not something that they did because of the election of Donald Trump.
“However, they woke up on November 9th and realized they were in a different frame…. People saw it differently and they saw it with much more belief than they would have seen it otherwise.”
Polley said she loved “The Handmaid’s Tale” and is excited her series is coming out in the same year.
“A lot of people are already aware of Margaret’s work but even more are now and also aware of how beautifully it can be adapted to the screen,” she said.
“So that’s fantastic for us in terms of already having that momentum. But more importantly, I think the way the shows speak to each other is really interesting.
“They’re very, very different, there’s no comparison to be made. They’re in completely different styles and time periods and there’s nothing really connecting them except for this conversation about women and history, in terms of the shows, I mean…. In terms of looking back at women and where they’ve come from and what life was like for an immigrant-domestic woman.”
The issues Grace faced are still relevant today, Atwood and Polley both noted.
“Let’s not pretend that none of this is still going on, particularly people who are illegally here or sex-trafficked, all that kind of thing,” said Atwood. “But also people who find themselves in domestic situations in which they are, shall we say, not treated with the utmost respect.”
“Especially immigrant women who are domestics and there is a lack of power and rights there that I think we take for granted in this society still,” added Polley.
“But I think the thing of looking back and looking forward is a really useful thing to be doing at a time where rights are really precarious.
“I think this is, in my lifetime, the scariest moment in terms of realizing that these things aren’t givens.”
“Alias Grace” premieres Sept. 25 on CBC and globally outside of Canada on Nov. 3 on Netflix.