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Series Review: 'The Handmaid's Tale' is chilling

Based on the book by Margaret Atwood, this series delves into the horror of fertile captives tasked with renting out their wombs

12 August 2017 - 00:00 By Jasper Rees
'Mad Men's' Elizabeth Moss stars as Offred in 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
'Mad Men's' Elizabeth Moss stars as Offred in 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
Image: Supplied

Stick up a paw if you've not read The Handmaid's Tale. (I am typing with one hand here.) Margaret Atwood has hordes of devotees but membership of her cult looks primed for expansion with this commanding new adaptation of her 1985 novel.

It imagines the ascendancy of totalitarian Bible Belters in the US's war-sundered near future, and the art department has gone to town. The world of fundamentalist Gilead - all wood, skies and foliage - has a creepy cleanliness. Its brainwashed coven of young women wear an oppressive livery of russet habits and starched wimples.

If there's plenty to look at in the adaptation there's the riveting Elisabeth Moss as Offred, one of a prized minority of fertile captives - handmaids, also known as Marthas - condemned to rent out their reproductive organs to the barren wives of community leaders.

Moss's beaky physiognomy and hawk-like stares might have been custom-made to play a bowed but unbroken woman incubating secret memories of a previous life, with a sarcastic commentary unspooling in her head.

Offred's impregnation takes the form of a cheerless threesome in which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) impales her while Serena Joy cradles her head. No wonder this gripping episode climaxed with the handmaids committing vengeful murder by mob.

WATCH the trailer for The Handmaid's Tale

For Atwood nerds, there is a fuzzy cameo of the authoress administering a punitive blow.

Purists may do a double take at the news that a second series has been commissioned.

But hey, there's been a ballet, an opera, several plays and a film scripted by Harold Pinter. The more the scarier. - The Daily Telegraph

• This article was originally published in The Times.


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