The world changed rather dramatically from the time Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” started shooting in 2016 to when it started to air in April 2017. Suddenly, author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic felt a little less allegorical, and lot more … Possible? OK, that’s a bit of a leap. What’s undeniable, though, is that this story of a totalitarian society in which women are stripped of civil rights hits the viewer hard. It’s an unsettling experience -- Atwood’s book was a tough read, and Hulu’s adaptation is a tough watch -- and it should be.
Title: “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Year it began: 2017
Where it can be seen: Hulu
Who’s in it: Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, and Max Minghella
Typical episode length: 47 to 57 minutes
Number of episodes to date: 4 (as of May 3); series will run for 10 episodes
Brief plot description: The United States has become a totalitarian society called Gilead, where a military dictatorship has taken away the civil rights of women. Fertile women, like Offred (Elisabeth Moss) are forced into servitude as Handmaids. Offred is assigned to the home of a powerful Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and expected to bear his child. Haunted by visions of her husband and daughter, Offred must attempt stay alive, and try to not forget the life she once had.
Why it’s worth watching: Atwood’s novel was adapted for the big screen in 1990 by playwright Harold Pinter and director Volker Schlöndorff, but this curiously unemotional film is remembered mainly for the performance of Robert DuVall as “The Commander.” Hulu’s new series is, from the outset, a more stylish, more powerful viewing experience than the earlier adaptation. While the series departs from the novel in a number of ways,it succeeds in capturing the novel’s constant sense of terror and overwhelming tension. This is especially true in the first three episodes, all beautifully directed by Reed Morano. She manages to make our initial descent into Gilead’s casually violent, unbendingly misogynistic world deeply compelling. Morano is aided by “Mad Men”’s Elisabeth Moss, whose work as Offred rivals her performances as Peggy Olsen and in Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake.” Joseph Fiennes lacks the gravitas Robert DuVall brought to the Commander, but “Gilmore Girls” favorite Alexis Bledel is heartbreaking as a Handmaid named Ofglen. Also resonating are the blood-red (with white bonnet) uniforms worn by the Handmaids. The imagery, then, is haunting, the story is compelling, and the acting potent. The result is stunning, fiercely disturbing television. “The Handmaid’s Tale” will leave you rattled, troubled, and even more fearful to turn on CNN than you already were.