Tuesday, March 15, 2022

TV Tuesday: The Handmaid's Tale

One of the best TV shows we've seen in the past six months--perhaps ever--is the The Handmaid's Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood's modern classic novel (my review at the link). My husband and I both read the novel, and the adaptation is outstanding. It's an accurate recreation of the world and story Atwood created, only expanded and deepened.

Elisabeth Moss stars as June Osborne, who is now known as Offred (Of-Fred, her commander) in this chilling dystopian world known as Gilead. Commander Fred Waterford, played by Joseph Fiennes, runs the household where Offred resides as handmaid. His wife, Serena Waterford (played by Yvonne Strahovski), desperately wants a baby but, like most women in this world, is infertile and must rely on her handmaid. Once a month, in a bizarre and horrifying Ceremony, Mrs. Waterford holds Offred down while her husband "plants his seed" (as it says in the novel). The rest of the upper-crust household is filled out by a Martha servant (played by Amanda Brugel) whose real name was Rita in the before world, and Nick (played by Max Minghella), who works as a driver, bodyguard, and general handyman at the house. In flashbacks, we see that June and the other handmaids were captured during the revolution and spent time in a training center to learn how to be proper handmaids. Her best friend, Moira (played by Samira Wiley) was at the center with June, and flashbacks show June and Moira enjoying their freedom and friendship in the before world. Their particular Training Center was overseen by "Aunt Lydia," played by Ann Dowd, with a disturbing mix of motherly kindness and terrifying cruelty toward "her girls." When she was captured, June was separated from her husband, Luke (played by O-T Fagbenle), and their daughter, Hannah, and June is desperate to find out where Luke and Hannah are. This tightly-controlled world is ruled by religion and uses scripture to justify every aspect of their warped society, even the mandated monthly rape. June and the other handmaids must strictly comply with the rules of society and their households or risk severe punishment, but inside their brains and their hearts, they still yearn for their real families and old lives.

Any description of this show feels inadequate in fully embodying its compelling and powerful story. While adaptations often fall short of the original material, this stunning show has taken Atwood's clever, imaginative, thoughtful novel and not only brought it to life but filled in the details and richness of the story to bring it to new heights. We are now watching season 4 (a fifth one is planned), and the plot has been delightfully twisty and unpredictable, as June's desire and strength to fight back have grown. Most of all, the acting on this show is absolutely outstanding. Moss is, of course, the undisputed star of the show, showing an incredible range of emotions from grief to love to rage and everything in between, but every single actor here shows a stunning complexity in their roles. Serena used to be a modern career woman and must now be the proper, submissive wife. She and Fred actually helped to create this society that she is now trapped in. Like June, Rita must be a silent and passive servant as the Martha of the house, without her own needs or desires. Even Fred, as the powerful head of household, has some complicated feelings about his wife and his handmaid. Taken as a whole, the incredible talent here, in writing and acting, and the breathtaking sets and cinematography combine to provide a powerful viewing experience that grabs hold of you and won't let go. It's one of the best shows we've ever seen, and we are completely hooked.

The Handmaid's Tale is a Hulu original, so it is available there. Episodes and seasons can also be purchased on Amazon. There are currently four seasons, and a fifth one is planned. Our son's student Hulu account runs out this month, so we are rushing to finish season four, but we might have to subscribe ourselves to see the last one when it is released!

The trailer below for Season 1 provides scenes from the show and a bit of background as to how Gilead came to be:

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