Since its release in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been adapted into a film, an opera and, most recently, a TV series by Hulu; a TV series I have been obsessed with.
The story is set in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian society run by fundamentalist Christians whose goal is to restore traditional values inspired by the Old Testament of the Bible. This includes the stripping of the rights of women meaning women cannot do things such as own property, be financially independent or even read. In the crux of declining birth rates, fertile women are forced to become Handmaids, a class of women who live with a Commander and his wife and engage in ritual sexual intercourse once a month when she is most fertile in order to get pregnant and birth a child for the family. The story follows Offred, a handmaid living with Fred (the commander) and his wife, and details her life as a handmaid.
There are some differences from book to screen and I must say all of them were welcome. Atwood, herself, was a consulting producer and I believe that everything added in was completely in keeping with the tone of the original novel and did nothing but expand the world already created.
The TV show is perhaps one of the best shows I have ever seen. It is absolutely stunning to look at and the use of colour is beautiful and important to the actual plot. You see, colour was an important part of the book too as it is a way of classifying the different classes of women. Wives are the highest class of women, marries to commanders and wear blue dresses which is suggestive of depictions of the Virgin Mary. Marthas are older, infertile women who are capable to doing household chores and wear green smocks. The title ‘Martha’ comes from a story in Luke from the Bible. The Aunts are the overseers of the Handmaids and train and monitor them. They wear brown and are the only class of women who are allowed to read. Finally, there are Handmaids, whose function is to bear children for infertile wives. The dress in red with white bonnets (wings) that prevent anyone from seeing them unless directly in front of them.
The role of Handmaid is regarded by many to be an honour but it is, in fact, more a prison. They have no rights to their body and are practically raped every month by their Commander in ‘The Ceremony’, where the Handmaid lies in the lap of the Wife (who is holding their wrists back) so they are considered one being while the Commander engages in penetrative sex with the Handmaid in an effort to get her pregnant. In the book, Offred comments on the fact that there is no word that covers this act.
“I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.”
The ceremony is also painful for the wives and something I enjoyed about the show is how they humanized Mrs Waterford (the wife). Its difficult for her to see her husband having sex with Offred and she is desperate to have a baby.
Something I also enjoyed about the TV show is the use of music, specifically modern, pop music. It’s unexpected and jolting, making you feel uneasy, which is the intention of the show in general. It is not an easy show to watch, possibly because it seems so realistic and possible. The events of the book and the show are possible and that is scary. There are things that happen in this show (some of which didn’t happen in the book) that are terrifying and awful. Before being captured, Offred (June in the show) had a daughter and was married and she spends a long time no knowing if they are dead or alive. One Handmaid, Ofglen, is caught having relations with another women and is convicted of gender treachery – experiencing absolute horrors as a result. We also see that, despite fighting for this pure Christian state, even high officials break the rules and are subject to lust. The things you see are horrific but need to be seen.
We see the breakdown of the United States as Gilead takes over, taking away financial stability from women as they can no longer own money. We see women’s protests, people trying to feel the country, the indoctrination June experiences as she is becoming a Handmaid and the mental torment one Handmaid goes through after she gives birth and realises she is never going to see her child again.
You have to watch this show. Its haunting, beautifully made, wonderfully acted and a reminder that if we continue to fight about women’s rights to their own body, we may not be so far from this as a reality.
I love this show and would love to write some ore about it. As always, thank you for reading and I will see you next time.
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