The Handmaid's Tale

Photograph: Amazon
Rating 7.5
Streamers All4, Amazon Prime
Seasons 4
Episodes 47 x 60 mins

In 2017 the terrifying dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood was turned into an equally horrifying TV series. Praise be.

In the unlikelihood that you don’t know what The Handmaid’s Tale is about let us lay down the law. This TV series adapts the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, which follows a group of women who are living under a dystopian, patriarchal society in which following the spread of infertility, fertile women have forcibly placed in high-standing homes to produce children from the so called ‘commanders.’

Our narrator is one of these handmaids, Offred (Elizabeth Moss), and we follow her through training under Mrs-Truchbull-lookalike Aunt Lydia at the Red Centre – where the handmaids are taught to be meek and mild – and into her placement in the Commander Waterford’s (Joseph Fiennes) household, where she must perform the monthly ‘ceremony’ to fulfil her duty and bear a child.

Check out another Elizabeth Moss hit, Mad Men.

If you hadn’t already guessed, this show is unrelentingly bleak. There’s no light relief from a bit of comedy or a lovey-dovey potential romance, it’s just continuous grim storylines made even darker by the unnervingly cool-toned lighting and the near constant hum of unsettling low-toned music. And for the most of it, you can’t possibly see how Offred could find a way out.

But she just might. The secret looks and murmurs in the supermarket, the potential allies in her fellow handmaids, the news of an underground movement. You’ll watch the whole thing with baited breath. Well, at least you do for the first season.

After that they run out of Atwood’s incredibly rich source material, and the writers have to go at it on their own. The results are varied. Season two managed to cling on to the show’s nerve-wracking premise, but from series three onwards, their fingers slipped and they fell into a hamster wheel of repetition. And boy do we feel sorry for that hamster.

However, the first two seasons are still worth the watch, with The Telegraph’s Jasper Rees giving season one our stars, saying this version of “Atwood’s dystopia has great visual heft.” Sam Wollaston of The Guardian went one step further, saying it’s “the best thing you’ll watch all year,” calling it “stylised, choreographed almost, menacing,” and concluding “It is a brilliant adaptation – some changes, but loyal in what it says and what it asks.” Of season two The Telegraph’s Jonathan Bernstein says, “There’s no question that The Handmaid’s Tale deserves its plaudits and success. Elizabeth Moss is approaching Streep-like status and the realisation of the world her character inhabits is horribly convincing.”

At least it was until season three came along, which Caroline Framke in Variety agreed was “frustratingly repetitive.” However, it appears it might be worth sticking with the series, as in Vulture, Jen Chaney says “season four finally regains some momentum and forward motion. Based on the eight out of ten total episodes made available to critics, this is the best The Handmaid’s Tale has been since its first season.” And The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson agrees, saying its diversion into global politics gave it a shot of new life, and season four continues to explore new ground. It needed it, and it works.”

First shown July 2017. You can watch the trailer for season four by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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