Based on Margaret Atwood\'s dystopian novel, the film presents a harrowing vision of near future. In Gilead, formerly the United States, a series of ecological disasters rendering most women infertile has been followed by a coup d\'état by puritanical right-wing fundamentalists. Attempting to escape the increasingly unjust and brutal oligarchy, Kate (Natasha Richardson) is captured by border guards while her husband is killed and her daughter lost.

Because she is fertile, Kate is sent for training as a handmaid, where she meets the defiant Moira (Elizabeth McGovern). Kate then becomes handmaid to the Commander (Robert Duvall) and is forced to enact a ceremony, based on the biblical story of Rachel, in which she lies between the Commander and his infertile wife, Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway), so he can impregnate her. The ceremony leaves Serena Joy angry, the Commander unfulfilled, and Kate humiliated, rebellious, and desperate for freedom. 

Natasha a bright light in a grim world.

Volker Schlöndorff’s bleak futuristic thriller based on the Margaret Atwood novel is a timely reminder of the prodigious talent of Natasha Richardson, who died in March after a skiing accident, aged 45.

Alas, her performance as a librarian who loses her husband and daughter and is forced to become a breeder is one of the few saving graces in this poorly-crafted piece of tosh. The ponderous, clunky screenplay is credited to the usually redoubtable Harold Pinter, who was reportedly so displeased with what finished up on screen he tried to have his name removed, according to Steven H. Gale’s book Sharp Cut.

A rare English outing for the German director, The Handmaid’s Tale is cold and uninvolving, almost totally devoid of tension, a credible plot or compelling characters. In Atwood’s nightmarish vision. the religious right has captured the US (renamed the Republic of Gilead) after pollution, which the nutters describe as a plague from God, rendered 99 percent of women infertile. Those unfortunates who can still bear children, dubbed Hamdmaids and dressed in red, are forced to procreate with selected men, then surrender their babies to the fathers and their blue-garbed Wives.

Natasha’s Kate, renamed Offred, is assigned to service The Commander (Robert Duvall), who, despite his status as head of the republic’s security, is clearly under the manicured thumb of his barren wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway).

The first attempted impregnation, with both participants nearly fully-clothed and Kate being cradled by the Wife, is truly icky. Later, a couple of incidents verge on being horrific, although these are brusquely dealt with. Salvation for Kate appears, improbably, in the hands of The Commander’s chauffeur Nick (a blander-than-bland Aidan Quinn).

Against the odds, Richardson brings a semblance of class to the film, imbued with a combination of vulnerability, flinty humour, mock obedience and growing rebelliousness.

Dunaway, displaying a frozen smile, looks like she stumbled onto the wrong set and can barely wait to escape. Duvall struggles with the thankless task of trying to make a pathetically weak character even semi-believable. Elizabeth McGovern injects a bit of much-needed bit of fun into the proceedings as Kate\'s foul-mouthed lesbian friend. Minimal extras comprise select scenes and the theatrical trailer.


Sat, 04/18/2009 - 11