The Handmaid's Tale

We premiered this film at the Original in 1990. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff and adapted by Harold Pinter from Atwood's novel, one doubts that critics today would call it "overblown paranoid crap based on same" (Greenwich Village Gazette, 1990) or "pretentious, self-righteous melodrama about the evils of patriarchy" (Film Journal, 1990). Definitely worth another look.

The Handmaid’s Tale has remained an unfortunately relevant piece of work – and though the earlier film version has to skim some of that subtext, it’s still a successful adaptation. Director Schlöndorff helmed the 1979 Palme d’or winner The Tin Drum, so he knows a thing or two about political cinema, and the adaptation is credited to the great Harold Pinter and his blunt intelligence, coupled with Atwood’s forceful commentary and allegory, shines through.

Set at unspecified point in the future, in which the United States has become “The Republic of Gilead,” the film begins with Kate (the late Natasha Richardson) attempting a border crossing to Canada with her husband and daughter. But their immigration is blocked and health tests identify Kate as fertile; one of only 1% of the population that can conceive a child, a side effect of overwhelming pollution. “You’re the lucky ones!” she and her fellow “handmaids” are told by “Aunt Lydia”, who will prepare them for their new roles. “You’re going to serve God and your country.”

After a period of shaming and indoctrination, our heroine is sent to the home of Serena (Faye Dunaway) and her husband, referred to only as “The Commander” (Robert Duvall). As their household handmaid, she is to part of a rather unfortunate three-person sex situation (called “The Ceremony”), in which the husband attempts to impregnate the handmaid, while the wife participates as best she can. It seems pretty miserable for all parties.

But there’s an uprising in the offing, and Kate is game. This Handmaid’s Tale never found an audience. The early ‘90s were also not exactly a robust period in political cinema, and the influence of the Moral Majority – so clearly felt in Atwood’s text – wasn’t as pronounced in the Bush I White House as it had been in Reagan’s. But, sadly, it sure is now.” - Flavorwire

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