Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is too close for comfort

Tom Long

It’s possible to enjoy “The Handmaid’s Tale” and wish it wasn’t so terrifyingly relevant.

But that relevance is unavoidable. Every picture — and there have been many — coming out of Washington, D.C., that shows a group of men making decisions about the rights of women hangs over this sterling adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel from 1985.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” centers around Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a woman who is forced to be a concubine to the powerful Commander (Joseph Fiennes) in a post-American world. Pollution has made conceiving children extremely rare and women who have the ability are prized and essentially imprisoned.

That’s right, this is a story of institutionally sanctioned rape. Oh, the powers that be wrap the practice up in quasi-Christian blather, but it’s rape. And Offred is as terrified, disgusted and lonely as you’d imagine.

Which sounds pretty dark, and it is, but the wonder of both Atwood’s novel and the series is that it actually manages to be playful and witty at times. As in the book the series moves between Offred’s prior life (which looks a lot like current America), her capture and indoctrination into the new system, and her time spent as essentially breeding stock.

There are minor shifts from the book — some storylines and characters expand, some shrink — but Offred still has a best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley), who may or may not be alive; the Commander still has a resentful wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and a bold chauffeur (Max Minghella); and the future still looks bleak.

But Offred is very much the center and Moss has never been more compelling. As oppressed as Offred is, she’s fully human and, unfortunately, a character both of and for our time.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’


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