2017.43: The Handmaids Tale – Season One
I wish they’d stop making such great television, it’s distracting me from watching movies. Indeed, this year is shaping up to be the year of the tv boxset for me. So far I’ve watched Daredevil Season One, Sherlock Season 4, Westworld Season One, The Man in the High Castle Season Two, Person of Interest Seasons Four and Five, The Leftovers Seasons One and Two, Breaking Bad Seasons One and Two, Cardinal Season One, Fargo Season Three… and it’s all been pretty great, other than Sherlock and how Fargo ended.
So now we have The Handmaids Tale, and this may be one of the best of the lot. Even I, not averse to dystopian books/movies etc, was shocked at just how dark and brutal this series was. Not exactly graphic but harrowing in its themes, subtext and portrayal of its nightmare near-future.
Based on the Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel (already made into a film, back in 1990), it tells the story of a Handmaid, Offred, who lives in a far-right totalitarian society of the near-future, in what used to be the United States. The world has been blighted by a plummeting birth rate and the state of Gilead has decreed that all fertile women should be enslaved into sexual servitude (and most of the other women sent off to colonies to work until they die). These slaves are named Handmaidens, and ostensibly are held in high regard but in reality they are like livestock whose only function is to perpetuate the species through becoming pregnant by the men of the ruling class in a ritualised rape.
The ten-episode series pretty much tells the story of the novel, weaving a backstory through it of the time before the new society formed and when the far-right regime took power. Initially it seems far-fetched but it becomes almost horribly plausible as the story unfolds over the season and we witness Offred’s attempts to survive and fight back against her rulers.
Its very dark. As I say, it’s not exactly graphic (although it has its moments) but it is relentless darkness and the horror creeps up on you. It certainly has left me thinking about what I have seen. Its brutal emotionally, rather than brutal physically, if that makes any sense? Its very well-written and the cast -Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski are the leads- are exceptional. It is beautifully photographed (why is it that future nightmares can seem so pretty to look at?) as so much television is these days, really film-quality. Disturbing but riveting television and highly recommended.
Why bother with film these days when such great quality is made available on television? Material such as this is far more involving and enlightening than the popcorn blockbuster fare that fills the multiplexes, and if you love sequels, well, The Handmaids Tale is getting a second season next year. There is irony there but what the hell, I’m looking forward to it.