Sometimes a film, book or TV show arrives at the exact moment it’s meant to, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist and deeply permeating the public consciousness. But few land with the overwhelming impact of The Handmaid’s Tale – the second season of which arrives this month to fevered anticipation.
Of course, the political context of a Trump presidency makes Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Gilead – where women have been stripped of all rights – feel not too far removed from reality. Indeed the show, and its star and producer Elisabeth Moss – who plays Offred, a sexual slave forced to bear children for barren women – swept the board at every awards ceremony after it launched last spring. The red robes and white caps of the handmaids became a symbol of real-world resistance, worn in the second annual Women’s March and in pro-choice protests at US courthouses.
‘It does feel like the right moment for this story, like it’s speaking to us as humans – not just in my country, but all over the world,’ agrees Elisabeth, when I find her on set, outside the Commander’s mansion. ‘And I think it was time, in so many ways, for these stories to have a voice, and to start to be told. Did I anticipate there being this crazy storm, of the costumes being used at real-life protests, or outside legislatures? Of course not,’ she cries. ‘But if we have given someone a symbol for the resistance, then fantastic. That’s cooler than any show.’
While the cast is sworn to secrecy over the new season’s plot, Elisabeth – clad in her iconic red handmaid’s robes – can reveal some of the major themes, which include motherhood, ‘and the many different ways in which you can be a mother’.
‘The idea of solidarity among women is a huge part of season two,’ she says. ‘I get chills – look, I have goosebumps – thinking about the final episode this season, because that is exactly what it’s about.’
While season one of the show aired in the months after Trump’s election, in a maelstrom of regressive policies curtailing the rights of women and minorities, season two was being filmed as Time’s Up began to take hold. For Elisabeth, the timing could not feel more pertinent. ‘Being involved in the show, being involved in the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, I feel a great sense of responsibility in telling the story of a person who is a survivor of rape and assault,’ she says.
And, like most women, since the stories of abuse, assault and harassment became public, 35-year-old Elisabeth has begun to rethink many of her previous interactions. She has not, she says, been subjected to the violations some peers have suffered. ‘But you start to roll it back, and you think about comments, or “jokes”. Things sound different to me now,’ she nods. And, as producer, she is also doubly conscious of sexism and misogyny. ‘If there’s ever a time now where I feel like I’m not getting the same treatment, I notice, and I ask myself, is it because I’m a woman? You just can’t help but think that now.’
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ returns to Channel 4 this month.