One of the most anticipated shows of 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale is finally available in Australia, with all 10 episodes streaming on SBS On Demand from 6 July. The critically lauded show, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel and starring Elisabeth Moss, takes place in the fictional puritanical North American region of Gilead, where the birth rate has plummeted and fertile women are under servitude to rich, powerful and childless couples as forced surrogates. Moss plays our protagonist, Offred, a name signifying to whom she belongs: her Commander, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his Wife, Serena Joy (Aussie Yvonne Strahovski).
Watch the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale here:
For a show based on a decades-old book and set in a futuristic dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale is frighteningly relevant. It’s hard to watch anything that’s steeped in politics without drawing parallels to America — reimagined here as Gilead — and other authoritarian countries’ draconian administrations, but THT takes it further by portraying exactly what could happen to women if the gains we’ve made in recent decades are taken away. From reproductive freedoms to financial autonomy to job security, it’s all at stake in THT.
By now, we know anything Elisabeth Moss concerns herself with turns to gold, and her performance as Offred is no exception. Add to that the stirring portrayals of Aussie Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy and Samira Wiley as Moira, and a surprising turn from Alexis Bledel as Ofglen — not to mention the rest of the supporting cast — and THT should sweep all the awards shows.
The allure of dystopia
Many people who’ve already seen the show have expressed how unsettled they felt after bingeing even a few episodes in a row. The sheer amount of oppression and violence may be upsetting for some viewers, but it also serves to shock us awake — if we sit idly by while our freedoms are legislated into oblivion, then it’s easy to see how civilisation could lapse back into the puritan society Gilead recalls. As Offred says, “That's how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn't wake up then, either.”
Everyone’s talking about it
What role does race play?
The series has sparked endless debate and conversation on these topics and more.
Books make great TV
THT joins the trend of books on TV, especially this year. We've already seen adaptations of Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons Why and American Gods, but where those shows have stuck largely to their source material, THT, which has been renewed for a second season, with Moss signing a contract through at least 2022, uses it as a jumping off point to start telling its own story.
It’s visually stunning
Setting aside the affecting storytelling and political messages, THT is impressive for its visuals alone. Director Reed Morano, cinematographer Colin Watkinson and costume designer Ane Crabtree work in perfect concert to juxtapose the blood red of the Handmaids and turquoise of the Wives against the bleak backdrop of Gilead and the rest of its inhabitants.
Scenes when the Handmaids meet for Particicutions (public executions carried out by the ladies in red) and other public gatherings, oftentimes to an iconic song by Simple Minds or Nina Simone, serve to cinematically punctuate the harrowing personal tasks they are forced to carry out.
The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream at SBS On Demand.