Unnerving Distress of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Manifests Before Your Eyes


Unless you’ve been abducted this past week and forbidden to look anyone in the eye or go online, you should have heard about Hulu’s sublimely spooky publicity stunt inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale at SXSW. ICYMI: there’s a highly anticipated series being led by Hulu next month!

In a successful effort to keep us entertained until then—we have four more weeks—Hulu recruited real life handmaids to saunter the streets at the annual tech and entertainment festival in Austin, Texas. Anyone strolling the streets that evening had the pleasure of being spooked by the handmaids—who were seen in groups or pairs. In the city where the theme is to keep things weird, the handmaids blend into the town just easy enough. But if you’re a fan of the novel then you know that’s an eerie compliment.

Surprisingly, though, this publicity buzz is quite a contrast to the original film adaptation—released in 1990—and had a hard time finding actresses willing to play the lead role of Offred. The dearly departed Natasha Richardson ended up taking the role, albeit reluctantly. Elisabeth Moss, on the other hand, has been quite excited to fill Richardson’s shoes because “she couldn’t stand the idea of anyone else doing it.”

Even though the 1990 adaptation release was largely panned, it was mostly forgotten. One could argue that the industry wasn’t ready at that time, or we could chalk it up to poor production. Certain tidbits from the novel that could’ve helped the viewer better convey what was going on in the film were not handled all that well in the film version. For example, it wasn’t communicated that she was being drugged, therefore showing little emotion when her husband was shot and her daughter was taken away from her. It’s unfortunate how often this happens in the telephone game of book-to-film reinterpretations, luckily for us, Hulu’s modern rework of Margaret Atwood‘s staggering classic seems promising.

Atwood herself, who signed away her rights to the original film, has said that she feels they nailed it. Director Reed Morano has worked diligently to depict the story as closely to the book as possible. Morano, who also shone her creative light on a gamut of other projects, spanning from Beyonce‘s 2016 album Lemonade, the indie flick Kill Your Darlings and even on a few episodes of HBO‘s Divorce. In an interview with IndieWire, Morano admitted to “pitching the craziest things [she] could” to transform this thought-provoking drama into a gut-wrenching thriller. Atwood has seconded the efforts made the crew, including Morano, showrunner Bruce Miller, and Executive Producer Warren Littlefield, who said their advancements have actually taken things even further than she did in her novel. (Yes!)

But chartering the unexpected has a way of making things more realistic, more exciting!

After all, Atwood has considered The Handmaid’s Tale to be more speculative fiction than science fiction, and Miller agrees. He, too, has been open and fearless to make the necessary adjustments to the show in the name of art. To give you a taste of what Miller’s concocted for the series, in Atwood’s masterpiece, Serena Joy (played by Yvonne Strahovski) is much older than Offred. This barren woman is the wife of the commander (played by Joseph Fiennes) to whom Offred has been assigned as his personal baby-making machine. However, in Hulu’s adaptation, they purposefully made the women closer in age so watchers could truly witness the tension between handmaidens in direct competition with one another.

A closer glimpse at Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

All of the makers involved with the new series have been especially grateful for the multi-layered characters they’ve put together. And also, this is a great opportunity for familiar faces as well as some new ones: Gilmore Girls favorite Alexis Bledel is given a chance to dig deeper as a serious actress; Samira Wiley makes another quick return to screen work after her characters’ ill-fated turn of events in Orange Is the New Black; and even Shakespeare in Love‘s very own Joseph Fiennes have all noted the eerie relevance of the subject matter considering the times we’re living in today.

According to Wiley, it was the post-presidential election era has also changed the tone while shooting. The actress also makes the prominent point that, even in the book, women in power don’t actually have power; they are simply prisoners and the show sort of reflects our current climate that challenges the authority of women’s bodies. Fiennes, on the other hand, is disquieted by the parallels between the book and current day notions in terms of power imbalances within our society—which he feels is the book’s ultimate issue. According to Fiennes, the system on display in The Handmaids Tale (as well as our own) evokes fear in how men might abuse what powers they control.

It will be compelling to see how the novel gets stretched out—hopefully into a recurring series—as the episodes progress. Telling by the confident crew, the show might be a much more intimate and on point depiction than the original film ever was. Just the promotion alone makes us uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, we’re definitely looking forward to seeing how things pan out for The Handmaid’s Tale, which makes its premiere April 26.

Are you as confident in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as we are?

Share some of your thoughts on the upcoming series in the comments below!

Errica Bailey
the authorErrica Bailey
A city girl from the midwest still not sure where to call home, Errica hopes to one day be able to focus her creative energy at a level akin to Carrie Matheson - off her meds of course.