Finding the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale a bit of a struggle (I’ve just watched Episode 9, Heroic, and I feel that this has been one of the stronger episodes of the season. I’m hoping it’s gearing up for the last few eps), I decided to watch the 1990 film. Apart from the fact that the poster is highly sexualised in a way that is extremely creepy, especially when you know the content, it’s a very good film. Very dated, but that’s surely to be expected.
Of course, each interpretation has its strengths and weaknesses. I think having a longer time to tell the story means that the first season of the TV show is able to take the time to set up the world – the darkness, the violence, the true horror of the place. While the film shows frightened people being herded off to the colonies, it doesn’t have the same sense of oppression and terror that is created by the long, slow shots and the quiet of the TV show.
There is a lot of criticism about the way the TV series deals with race – do a basic Google search and you will find a heap of articles on it. In the book, non-white people in Gilead were sent to the colonies (and this happens in the film), whereas in the show, they exist in this world as Handmaids and Marthas, and I believe even one of the wives is a woman of colour. I’m big on diversity in the media and love seeing the wide range of races, sexualities, genders, abilities and etc. appearing as a natural part of the TV worlds, and so this is a conflict for me. Gilead is a horrible place with terrible things happening, and Atwood’s creation included genocide. But I’m sick of seeing TV worlds which are not diverse… I’ve been enjoying Nashville recently, but wow it is a very white and heteronormative world. So, should the show have been true to the book and had anyone non-white in Gilead removed? And then we get yet another almost totally white cast… but a representation truer to Atwood’s Gilead? Or do we accept that race is pretty much ignored in the show, though still the vast majority of the cast are white. It feels like it’s a crappy solution – keep people of colour in the world, but keep the numbers down. It just feels like it’s not quite right.
One of the most notable strengths in the film over the TV show is the casting of the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. In the TV show, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) are the same age, but in the film, Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway) is considerably older that Offred (Natasha Richardson). This changes the dynamic between the two characters quite considerably. Each are good, but it changes the relationship between the Commander and Offred a lot, and Serena Joy’s opinion of this relationship.
I’m still torn about the way the television show is moving – this season I’ve been getting fed up of the long shots of Elisabeth Moss staring (and I really hope there is a pay-off to all those shots… three eps to see if that is the case) – but I think both the show and the film are very good, interesting interpretations of the book. And, of course, now I feel the need to re-read the book – I last read it in around 1997, so I think it’s due for a revisit.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Wow. The first thing that struck me about the book having seen the film and TV series recently is how sparse it is. Being told from the perspective of Offred, the reader only knows what she sees and what she chooses to tell us. The reader doesn’t know the whole world, only the space Offred occupies. While both the TV and film tell the same basic story, the book has the power of bringing the reader right into Offred’s world, and it’s truly wonderful.