The new Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiered on April 26, is already generating a lot of buzz from critics and advance acclaim from fans. The series, based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is sure to draw its share of fans who are eager to check out how faithful the film adaptation is to the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead portrayed in the novel.
So just how faithful is the adaptation?
That is bound to be the first question that many people ask, especially those who remember the dystopian world laid out in such stunning detail by Atwood nearly a generation ago. The novel, set in near-future New England, examined what a totalitarian, post-America world might look like, where a woman’s sole focus in the world is to bear offspring for the elite members of society. That society had a language and vocabulary all its own, including terms like “Unwomen.”
A lot has changed between now and then. In the Western industrialized world, women have largely attained full equality and so the feminist message may seem a bit dated. However, that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. Everyday, we hear of the Taliban and how they have created their own totalitarian, religious society where women have no rights. Or we hear of ISIS and their religious campaigns against anyone – and especially women – who dare to go against their distorted version of religious law.
Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist
The star of this series will be Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred (“Of Fred”), a handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes). We’ll see how she silently struggles in her new role, and how she attempts to break free of the subservient life.
There are a lot of different storylines that are going to intersect here, especially the relationship between Offred and her fellow handmaids, and the relationship between Offred and the Commander’s wife. No matter what happens, though, the star of this show is Elisabeth Moss, so expect a brilliant performance from her. Alexis Bledel (from “Gilmore Girls“) also appears in the show, so “Gilmore” fans will definitely tune in.
The visual language of Gilead
From everything we’ve seen and heard so far, the show is “visually stunning.” There are close-ups of life in Gilead, and then there’s also the scenes that appear almost as if they were filmed by low-flying drones. We see exactly what the society looks like from a bird’s eye view – the handmaids walking in perfect lockstep, the rows of handmaids in scarlet capes and white bonnets, and the nearly mechanical way every aspect of the society is governed.
And there are plenty of visual elements from the Atwood book that people are looking forward to seeing. This includes the many references to flowers within the book, and how Atwood uses the flower as a metaphorical description of the women. The role of women is to look pretty, give birth to new babies who will form the next generation, and then passively disappear from the scene. They are like flowers that bloom, and then wilt away when the seasons turn colder. As one reviewer has noted, it’s all “horrifyingly beautiful.”
We can also expect to see lots of women engaged in busywork like needlework. That, too, was one of the big motifs of the book. Women were not supposed to think or act for themselves, and so every spare moment has them engaged in either drudgery (as in the case of the infertile Marthas) or in mind-numbing busywork. This is an oppressive, patriarchal system, and needlework is a way to have the women seen, but not heard.
Socio-political implications of “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Let’s face it, we live in strange political times. So there’s bound to be critics (both professional and amateur) who are going to compare the dystopian, post-apocalyptic New England of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the current situation in America. Just as Gilead was the post-American republic that emerged in the wake of a great dystopian event, half of American society now views the current U.S. as a dystopian world where everything appears to be upside down.
At the very least, there is bound to be some discussion of how far women have come in the 30+ years since the publication of Atwood’s novel. In the 1985 book, feminism was perhaps at its peak as a sociopolitical worldview. Since then, a lot has gone on with gender equality and gender identity, but some aspects of that earlier era have now been replaced by concerns about equal pay in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in the workplace (just think of the recent examples of Fox News and Uber), and women’s right to an abortion. So this TV show is going to be very relevant.
From what we know from the Hulu trailer (which dropped on YouTube on March 23), and from advance critical acclaim, this show is going to have suspense from beginning to end. Surely, the fact that “eyes” (i.e. spies) are watching the women every minute of the day is going to be part of the thriller-like atmosphere. Who can we really trust in this new world? And will the handmaid Offred ever be able to reclaim her past life from “the time before”?
A hybrid release schedule
If you’re used to Netflix and every episode of a series dropping on the same day, then you’re going to have to get used to the Hulu system. It’s really a hybrid system, in which the first 3 episodes will drop on April 26, and the next 7 episodes will be rolled out on a weekly basis (much as you’d expect with a new series on cable or broadcast TV).
Putting it all together, this looks a new mega-hit for Hulu. The advance ratings for “The Handmaid’s Tale” are off the charts: it has a score of 97/100 on Metacritic, a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and plenty of critical acclaim from the mainstream media. Hollywood Reporter has even called this “probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.” If you’re looking for the next big show that everyone’s talking about, “The Handmaid’s Tale” certainly makes for compelling viewing.