Image via Channel 4.
With the hit television drama, The Handmaid’s Tale, currently sweeping our screens, Patrick from The Blog From Another World and I decided to discuss the book and its adaptation.
The Handmaid’s Tale is based on Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian novel of the same name, following the life of Offred, a Handmaid living and serving the extreme Christian totalitarian system named Gilead. She is forced to have sex with her Commander each month, in the hopes she will be impregnated with his child and thus continue the population of Gilead.
I’ve only briefly discussed The Handmaid’s Tale before. In a nutshell, my opinion of the novel is that it’s I liked the subverted use of Christianity, which made for an interesting dystopian, but the feminist overtones are overly laboured.
Patrick however, has not finished The Handmaid’s Tale yet.
“I have read part of it, but not enough to provide an honest summation. I think watching this story with very little prior knowledge gives the series a real unpredictability. I will have it finished by the time the series is over though!”
This is not the first adaptation of the novel; The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted into a film in 1990 – a film I have seen, and did not enjoy. I think the decision to move from a film adaptation to an in-depth television drama was smart.
Patrick said, “I think this TV adaptation has allowed the writers to expand upon Margaret Attwood’s ideas and the world she has created. You can dive into the backstory of many characters and give everything a very modern update. I think it was the most obvious thing to do and has paid off enormously.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is not especially a long novel, but its television adaptation has been divided into 10 episodes.
In my opinion, this helps the narrative to be divided proportionally, so that the story is covered at an appropriate depth and doesn’t feel “drawn out”. I also like the incorporation of flashbacks to Offred’s old life, as these both emphasise the pain she is currently in at being separated from her husband and daughter and tie in to the current narrative as she hears rumours her husband may be found.
Yet, despite thinking ten episodes is a good length for the drama, I struggle to keep up with watching new episodes.
In the UK, The Handmaid’s Tale is aired on Channel 4, and available to watch on catch-up on All4. Channel 4 is notorious for its advert breaks. This is a petty complaint, and not linked to the production of The Handmaid’s Tale itself, but regularly disrupting a show that is full of gripping scenes and high-tension to advertise the latest dishwasher or car completely ruins my immersion in the drama.
The frequent advert breaks have a dramatic impact on my willingness to keep up with new episodes, and this is a real shame.
Patrick also struggles to watch new episodes, but for a different reason.
“I have hit a bit of a brick wall with this series. I cannot fault it – honestly – but it’s just so grim that I don’t know when I’ll watch the next episode.” he said, “If The Handmaid’s Tale was six, rather than ten, episodes long, then the intensity of the rape and violence might be warranted. Instead, imagining another four hours of brutality is not the most attractive prospect now – sometimes you need a bit lighter entertainment.”
However, Patrick and I have plenty of positives to discuss about The Handmaid’s Tale too.
He said, “I have really enjoyed the performances from the cast. Elizabeth Moss has made an incredible Offred, and has created so much depth and emotion. Yvonne Strahovski has also made the character of Serena Joy much more sympathetic and poignant than I first thought. I think that Serena Joy is probably the character I watch with the most interest.”
On this, I have to agree. In the novel, Serena Joy was always presented as a harsh, standoffish woman who resented Offred from the beginning. Whilst this is present in the television adaptation too, we are also presented with a vulnerable, emotional – and quite frankly, human – side to her that helps the audience to understand her motivations and feelings, and this, I think, was lacking from the book.
Patrick continued, “I also think many of the directing choices have been strong. The complex and jumbled chronology has added variety and context when needed. The writing is fantastic, really delving into the situation with uncompromising bleakness.
In terms of casting, Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is very impressive and I think Madeline Brewer as Janine is the most complex role. The women have the most material to work with, and the series as a whole is a really ensemble effort.”
The penultimate episode of The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Sunday the 23rd of July at 9pm.
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If you’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale too, what has your favourite part been?
– Judith and Patrick