Channel 4 – 9pm – Sunday 28th May 2017
Teleplay by: Bruce Miller
Based on the novel by: Margaret Atwood
Directed by: Reed Morano
As intrigued as I was by its release (and Channel 4’s acquisition for UK transmission), I am a week behind on Hulu/MGM’s new ten-part adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s speculative dystopian novel because I wanted to view the 1990 film version first. While not out-and-out disappointed by the Natasha Richardson-starring production (which you can read my review of HERE), my enjoyment was tempered by the outdated feel which crippled the suspension of my disbelief and meant I never felt truly engaged enough to appreciate the abject horror of the notion. A reader on my blog commented that I should still give the new series a try, as it improved upon the earlier attempt.
And boy were they right! Despite setting out ostensibly the same story (or, at least, a fraction of it) and sticking to the same aesthetic choices (the Handmaidens still wear stylised red habits; their initiation into the fascist order still takes place in an abandoned convent; the outside world looks otherwise as we know it today), this hour-long opening instalment managed to encapsulate a pitch-perfect tone. The fear and paranoia clouding the ruthless new theocratic dictatorship is palpable, so too the inevitable feeling that resistance is futile. You will obey, or you will be punished.
“I know this must feel so strange, but ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not be ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.”
While Atwood’s novel is told from Offred’s perspective (she is the Handmaid telling her tale), Harold Pinter’s 1990 treatment jettisoned this personable touch, but here – via voiceover – we hear the inner thoughts of the reluctant new concubine, played by a perpetually-perturbed Elisabeth Moss. Often Offred (as she is now known because she ‘belongs’ to her Commander, Fred) will contemptuously mock the hateful, torture-tolerant regime, remaining slyly stoic in the face of an impersonal and joyless future in which she must be a silent sex slave to the infertile.
“Someone is watching here. Someone is always watching. Nothing can change. It all has to look the same because I intend to survive.”
Seeing the regimented string of browbeaten Handmaids shop in a clinically-bright supermarket, its aisles capped off with gun-toting militia, was a wickedly surreal touch which brought home to me the harsh ‘reality’ of this inhumane new society in a way the film never quite achieved, even if it was not against showing us walls of hanging corpses of ‘treasonous criminals’. My only complaint after devouring this fascinating debut episode of The Handmaid’s Tale is a trivial one: the blocky font (it’s either Impact or a close relative) used in the credits, red and white on a black background while a modern pop song is (ironically?) played does NOT suit the otherwise exceptional production values and stylistic choices.
CR@B’s Claw Score: