Feature image: IMDb
Spoiler Alert! This review contains potential spoilers for season one of The Handmaid’s Tale
It’s the television series that has the world talking and now, after much anticipation, The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream here in Australia.
Clear your schedule, grab the popcorn and invite your bestie over because this is one series you cannot miss and trust me, you’ll want the company.
Based on the bestselling dystopian novel by literary genius Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale explores the lives of women in Gilead- a totalitarian society in which the female population is considered the property of the state.
In what was formerly part of the United States, Gilead is now under the rule of a theocratic government. Fertility rates have drastically diminished worldwide and by law, women are no longer allowed to read or write. Any woman that dares to defy these rules will have their hand sliced off.
Women considered to be blessed and fertile have been conscripted to serve as handmaids in Gilead. Assigned to the homes of the ruling elite, the handmaids must have unprotected sex with their Commander and in hope of becoming a surrogate for the Commander’s wife.
The Handmaid’s Tale is the basis for nightmares.
It’s chilling to the core.
The ten-part drama adaptation produced by Bruce Miller stars Elisabeth Moss as protagonist Offred, a handmaid appointed to the house of the wealthy Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) in the Republic of Gilead.
All handmaids share interchangeable names- Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren- titles taken from the names of their Commanders as a harsh reminder that they are no more than a piece of property. Names would be too humanising.
From the first episode, it is evident that this is not a series for the faint-hearted.
It is extremely graphic in its depiction of rape and other violent acts committed against women.
If you’re a book-before-the-movie type like myself, you’ll know what to expect. But for those who don’t know what’s in store, I recommend watching this one with a buddy.
The juxtaposition with the past and present is repeated at length in The Handmaid’s Tale, reminding us that life can change in an instant.
The series opens with a flashback envisioned by Offred (Moss) from the time before. She and her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) are making their escape from a collapsing America with their young daughter who sits in the backseat asleep, doped up on Benadryl to minimise their chances of being discovered.
As they are trying to flee and make their way towards the Canadian border, mother and child become separated and Offred is taken away by the military, where she is to begin her journey as a sacred handmaid.
Unofficially known by the handmaids as The Red Centre, the Rachel and Leah Centre portrays some of the series most terrifying scenes.
Ruled by the notorious Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), the centre is a twisted type of school where handmaids learn the do’s and don’ts of their new life, including how to perform the dreaded monthly Ceremony.
Handmaids are made to practice the ideal position for conception, as well as taking part in trial runs of giving birth.
It is here at that Centre where the handmaids are given their uniform- a blood red dress that covers their entire body and their prescribed white wings- a head piece to keep them from seeing and being seen in public.
The costume design by Ane Crabtree (Westworld, Masters of Sex) is hauntingly beautiful- the colour selection a reminder of the female reproductive system and its importance to the story’s narrative.
As predicted, there is some defiance amongst the handmaids in the Red Centre, particularly by Janine/Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer).
Ofwarren appears to be tortured more so than the others, both physically and psychologically- she is electrocuted by Aunt Lydia’s cattle prod, has an eye gouged out and is manipulated to believe that it was her fault that she was gang raped in her past life.
No female is exempt from the wrath of the regime, with each 50-minute episode bearing resemblance to a horror film.
The Handmaid’s Tale also looks at the life of queer women trying to survive in a dystopian society, particularly in a country governed by religious extremism.
Despite only playing a supporting role for less than half the series, Alexis Bledel’s portrayal of Ofglen, is worthy of multiple award nominations.
After being deemed a ‘gender traitor’ by the malicious government, Ofglen is forced to watch her lover die- strangled by a noose controlled by a crane. Ofglen is then sent into surgery where her genitals are mutilated to avoid the future temptation of lust.
Although the oppression and abuse of women is a dominating theme in the Handmaid’s Tale, the most powerful message delivered in the series is of defiance.
When the Handmaid’s Tale first began production in late 2016, the world was still reeling from the U.S. Election that saw Donald Trump appointed to the most powerful seat in Western society.
The resonance between the impending series and the political climate in the United States was noteworthy as women began rallying together to fight against sexism and their reproductive rights.
One of the final scenes of the series features Offred walking back from a public stoning, leading a sea of women behind her. It sends a powerful message to the audience, reiterating how power in numbers can weaken the hierarchy and influence change. “They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army,” narrates Offred.
In July 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale was nominated for eight Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.
It has been renewed for a second season that will air in 2018.
The first season is now available to stream for free via SBS On Demand.