Released back in April 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale (a television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s iconic dystopia of the same name) is currently on its second season on Channel 4, with the third season recently confirmed due to its critical acclaim.
As a huge fan of the book, I was pretty worried that Hulu would be unable to adapt such a great story into a web series. However, since watching the series from its first release, I have yet to be disappointed. One tip I would have to give someone who is a fan of the book and hasn’t watched the series is to try and treat them as separate. The show certainly cranks up the dramatics and details of the book to make the story all the more chilling.
Elisabeth Moss stars as protagonist Offred a young woman struggling to survive within the totalitarian Republic of Gilead that has taken over the United States. A world which echoes New England Puritanism, where fertile women are stripped of their rights, and forced into rape, monthly, to combat mass infertility caused by an environmental disaster.
What’s interesting about the show is that it offers multiple perspectives of people’s experiences of this grim future, something that I longed for when reading the book. Without spoiling too much, we get to find out how others survive Gilead, such as Offred’s husband before the regime, Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), her best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley) and the “antagonists”, the creators of the regime, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The show blurs the lines between good and evil, by showing the complexity of religious extremism through these characters, as the action moves between life before and during Gilead. We see how frighteningly easy it is for a regime like Gilead to take over when people remain complacent and blissfully unaware of what’s happening around them.
The cast certainly brings these characters to life, and Moss plays the desperation and hopelessness of a 21st-century woman forced into servitude really well. Yet, what drives the show is Offred’s determination to survive no matter what, despite being ripped away from her family, which we witness in the very first episode. You can’t help but root for her escape as she’s forced to adapt to life within Gilead whilst longing for her life before.
A special mention has to go to Ann Dowd’s brilliant Emmy award-winning performance as Aunt Lydia, whose role is to brutally enforce the laws of the regime for the Handmaids. We see a true follower of the religious extremism of Gilead and her unwavering devotion to her beliefs is shockingly twisted. Aunt Lydia switches from a soft-spoken motherly figure to harsh and unforgiving in a matter of minutes, making her performance on the show pretty memorable.
What makes this series so captivating is how terrifyingly real the world of Gilead feels; at first glance, it may seem extreme yet when examining it side by side with the world’s current socio-political tensions, you could argue that it’s not completely fictional. As Atwood has countlessly said in interviews, her story only includes things that have already happened or are still happening to women across the world, which makes Gilead feel so real.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted new series, then The Handmaid’s Tale is probably not for you, but if you’re searching for a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching show that really keeps you on the edge of your seat, then look no further. It’s definitely one of those shows that has a timeless message that stays with you even after one episode.
Overall Rating: 5/5
By Gemma Prince
Images Provided by Hulu.