I remember vividly when I first read Margaret Atwood's chilling "speculative fiction" story The Handmaid's Tale. I was around thirteen-years-old and it scared the living hell out of me. I assuaged my fears by telling myself "That couldn't happen in real life, right?!" It was written back in 1985, which was the decade for dystopian literature, so perhaps it was just a product of its time? Fast forward thirty-two years and we as a country are still having discussions about women's rights (especially reproductive rights) and gender roles. The current political climate is perfect for a new adaptation of Atwood's cautionary tale as a new audience can absorb its meaning.
The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a dystopian near-future version of America where a totalitarian religious regime known as the Republic of Gilead has taken over the country. All women have had their rights taken away and are divided into several groups: Wives, trophy women married to high-ranking officials, Marthas, sterile older women who provide domestic and maid services, and Handmaids, fertile women of childbearing age. Women are not allowed to read, own property or be homosexual (this is called being a gender traitor). Men now have all the power and each woman lives in her own special hell--if they fight back they are put to death or sent to work camps.
This adaptation of the book has shifted the timeline forward to modern times in a universe that is not unlike our own. We follow the tribulations of one Handmaid named Offred (Elizabeth Moss), literally "of Fred" the name of the man she works for, who is trying to figure out how to survive in this new world. Moss is absolutely fantastic in this role and though most of her feelings are portrayed through inner monologue, she manages to use her body and facial expressions to convey a multitude of ideas and feelings. She works for a Wife named Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) who is just as trapped in her limited role as Offred. Serena goes between despair and misguided anger constantly and it's easy to go from hating her to pitying her at a moment's notice.
The series is directed by Reed Morano who is known for her breathtaking cinematography in other films. This series is truly gorgeous in all of its horrifying beauty. Wide shots, incredible slow-motion scenes, the contrast between the crimson red dresses of the Handmaids and the subdued scenery--it's all masterfully done. Every single episode is completely harrowing and oppressive and I found myself feeling distraught and tense while watching it. They added in quite a bit of backstory that wasn't present in the novel as well, which makes the characters much more fleshed out. The music is well done too, accentuating the horror and unease perfectly. There are so many levels to this narrative, even with how the different groups of women are taught to hate each other, thus dividing them and making them easier to control. This is required viewing. If the rest of the series keeps up this quality it might be one of the best book adaptations ever made.