Based on the book of the same name (by Margret Atwood), The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian future in Gilead (what used to be the United States) ruled by a fundamentalist regime who treat women as property of the state, faced with environmental disasters and a birthrate declining rapidly.
In an attempt to repopulate the world, fertile women are forced to become concubines in order to provide children, almost like reproductive slaves. These women are called Handmaidens (or Handmaids), one of which is Offred (Elisabeth Moss), our protagonist.
Offred is entirely driven by her determination to survive and find her daughter, who was taken from her when she was captured. She’s strong, brave, admirable and manages to remain a sympathetic and kind person despite the awful situations she’s forced into. She works out how to get by in this world, but never gives up hope on rebelling, willing to do anything it takes for her daughter.
She’s an excellently written female protagonist and Elisabeth Moss certainly brings her to life. Portraying her grit, determination, pain and anguish at what Offred is forced to go through is often times very difficult to watch, a testament to her performance and the writing.
This too can be said for all of the characters. The entire cast never feel forced or contrived, but feel very natural and real. Performed brilliantly to portray their own emotional losses and their menacing traits as well, particularly Joseph Fiennes’ The Commander.
The series is truly written excellently, building and creating tension revolving around a variety of situations and incidents, some of which are incredibly difficult to watch, especially in it’s darker, uncomfortable moments, such as ‘The Ceremony’ where the Commander attempts to impregnate Offred through (what is essentially) institutionalised rape and adultery.
The twists and surprises are all woven in neatly, none of them feeling forced or unnatural, all leading up to one of the best season one finales I think I’ve ever seen. Genuinely a gripping, tense, dark thriller/drama from start to finish.
But The Handmaid’s Tale is much more than that. It’s also an exploration into a dystopian world which reflects a lot of issues we have in modern society, particularly surrounding gender inequality and gender roles. The series takes these issues and snowballs them into a glaringly obvious disgraceful treatment of women, forcing audiences to pay attention. Yes it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not a million miles from the truth.
What lies at the heart of this story though, is a tough, heartbreaking tale about love, loss and family. Offred has everything snatched from her, she’s then abused both physically, mentally and sexually, yet still strives to find her child and escape.
The series is an excellent mix of a period drama with the brutality, violent and darker opportunities modern set dramas/thrillers can contain. Bruce Miller (creator) and co. did a truly exquisite job on The Handmaid’s Tale, which certainly goes down on 2017’s must watch list.