The Handmaid’s Tale: A timely and necessary evil
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- 08 Mar 2018 (South Africa)
A screen adaption of Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel reflects a society not too far removed from some of today’s realities. By Showmax
It is 2018 and again, as ever, the wombs of women are of national interest. Donald Trump’s presidency has brought with it legislative threats to women’s reproductive rights and necessitated the return of a historic annual Women’s March in rebuttal. Across the world, a helpless roar bemoaning the sex trafficking of young girls is heard but unassuaged. It is as though just as we prepare to take stock of the strides made towards humanising women in society, the rug beneath our feet pulls us backwards in time.
Sent to us by the gods of television, under the auspices of MGM and Hulu productions, is a serial adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s sacred 1984 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The speculative fiction is summoned from the past, revived and revised for the present day, lest we forget how far we’ve come - or worse, where we are so quickly headed.
In the totalitarian state of Gilead, a state in an America of the future, the bodies of fertile women are commodified and given to the elite as breeding stock. The world is plagued by infertility attributed to the practice of birth control and abortions. Now, fearful for the prosperity of humankind, the state has returned to a fundamentalist doctrine in which women fulfil - by hook or crook – their “biological destiny”. Our protagonist and narrator, Offred, is separated from her husband and daughter to serve as a walking womb for one of Gilead’s commanders. Viewers journey with her as she learns about her new life while mourning her previous one. Those who question the new order are punished, and those who dare attempt to escape it are killed. With no idea of the state of her husband and child, she must find a way to survive rape and humiliation as she plots her way out.
Although those who have read the book might guess how the story ends, the first season will manage to grip even the author herself. A riveting performance by the leads, Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne/Offred), Joseph Fiennes (Fred Waterford), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy Waterford) and Samira Wiley (Moira), brings as close as possible to the interior lives of women in a world where their wombs are more valuable than their existence. And although flashbacks to the previous era account for how our protagonist got here, they do not do the same for the bigger picture: how did society get here? How does a thriving democracy whose constitution enshrines the human rights of all become a place where the bodies of women are nationalised resources?
It certainly does not slip and fall. Given recent debates on the use of rape in various art forms, literally or as
The Handmaid’s Tale is an important artistic exercise in this political climate. Beautifully shot, immaculately cast and aptly written for our times, it is both intensely entertaining and, with the questions it raises, inescapably necessary. DM
Watch the trailer here.
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