Screenplay: Margaret Atwood
Director: Reed Morano
Main Cast: Elizabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella
Release Date: April 30, 2017
Genre: Drama, Sci-fi
Based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, this series is set in Gilead, a totalitarian society in what used to be part of the United States. Gilead is ruled by a fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state, and is faced with environmental disasters and a plummeting birth rate. In a desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world, the few remaining fertile women are forced into sexual servitude. One of these women, Offred, is determined to survive the terrifying world she lives in, and find the daughter that was taken from her.
When I heard that they were making this book into a television show I was instantly excited about it. It motivated me to read the book (granted, I didn’t start until a few days before the first episode aired, and I was still reading the book while I was watching the show. We all know I’m a terrible reader okay, let’s not dwell on the fact that it takes me a million years to read a book.) I finished reading the book and I absolutely loved it. If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on the book, check out my review of it here. Anyway, enough about the book, let’s get on to my review of the show. Like I said, I loved the book but something about seeing it onscreen just made it even better. Seeing the world of Gilead come to life and be made a reality through my television screen was all the more terrifying than the book was. Seeing everything happen was so much more intense. There’s something about the way visual media makes me feel all the feels; it’s on another level compared to me trying to visually imagine things while reading. I definitely have a good imagination when it comes to reading but with subject matter as messed up as this, I felt like I wasn’t really doing it justice in my head, you know? It’s gruesome and heart-wrenching, and seeing it happen just had such an impact. Now, let’s talk about whether or not the show stayed true to the events of the book.
In my opinion, the show stayed fairly close to Margaret Atwood’s original vision, and I’m assuming it’s because Margaret Atwood had a hand in writing the show. Some things obviously had to be changed to bring the book to life on-screen. For starters, Offred was given the name June, which is an obvious change from novel to television. In the book we don’t really need to know her name when we’re inside her head reading about her experiences, but a name had to be used in the flashback scenes we see in the show. Another obvious update was the technology available at the time when Gilead was getting started, which was changed to make it more modern. When the book was written there definitely wasn’t as much technology available, but it makes sense to update it to reflect the world we’re living in now, because it makes it even more terrifying. You might probably wondering why I’m saying that The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying, because it’s not a horror story, it’s a dystopian. Well, Margaret Atwood has a way of immersing you in a creepy dystopian world, and making you feel like it’s completely possible that this could happen in the future.
There were some other changes that were added to the show in order to help fill in some of the gaps about how Gilead came to be. It was really interesting to see what they added. This is a bit of spoiler if you haven’t seen the show, but I want to talk about it a bit. Serena Joy and Fred basically had a big influence on the formation of Gilead. She’s the author of a series of “feminist” novels, which seemed to give her the ideas that helped shape Gilead. Yep, you read that right. A woman had a hand in creating the seriously oppressive regime that is the Republic of Gilead. The addition of this information adds a whole other level of messed up shit to this cult like society. A woman thought her life would be better because of what she implemented, but all she achieved was making herself and all other women miserable.They are in a position that seems like they have power, but really, they are just as helpless as the Handmaids. They completely believed that they were doing great things for the world, and based their decisions on the Bible, and the Lord’s word. This just shows what happens when people take religion to the extreme. It’s really a very interesting social commentary, given the current state of the world.
The most important thing that needed to be changed slightly from book to screen was Offred’s involvement in things. While you’re reading the book, you’re getting a lot of Offred’s thoughts and inner monologues as she recounts something that happened to someone who she heard through the grapevine of Handmaids. Had they not changed this aspect, it would have made for a very boring television show. It’s a lot easier to show on-screen if she’s actually involved in it. I really liked that they made this change, because it meant that we got to see more action, and a lot more information. We’re not just in the dark about things that are happening around the world with other people. Also, this meant that Offred became slightly more badass in the show, which I loved.
I also really enjoyed the changes they made with respect to adding more back story to the show. We found out more about other characters and where they ended up after Offred lost contact with them. There are a lot of things that are left open-ended in this book for that reason. Offred doesn’t know what happens to Moira or her husband Luke, and as the reader, we’re not supposed to either. We’re supposed to feel uneasy, and be wondering if we’ll find out what happened to them, just like Offred. The show had a lot more room to expand its focus, and give us more information. We learn more about Ofglen, as well as Serena Joy, The Commander, and Nick. I also wanted to address is the fact that they made the wives and Commanders significantly younger than how they were portrayed in the book. I think this made so much sense with the plot and the story. I didn’t really understand at first why all these women in their sixties would want to go through the trouble of having a Handmaid and having a baby when they were so far past child-bearing age. To me, it makes more sense to have much younger women be desperate for a child.
Overall, I really like this show, and I can’t wait for season two! Let’s discuss in the comments. Let me know if you’ve read the book, or if you’re a fan of the show! Also, if you’d like to purchase Handmaid’s Tale, feel free to do so through my Book Depository affiliate link here.