The Handmaid’s Tale: 2017’s Most Talked-About TV Show

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale

by Katie Rosseinsky |

With a prestigious cast and timely political message, the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s eerily relevant 1985 dystopian novel, has been one of the most talk-about TV series of 2017 so far.

After The Handmaid’s Tale premiered on Hulu on 26th April, the show, which stars Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Gilmore GirlsAlexis Bledel, generating rave reviews and think-pieces in publications on both sides of the Atlantic. British fans of Atwood’s novel, however, were left feeling frustrated that there was no legal way for them to watch the show: the streaming service is currently only available in the U.S, and it’s impossible for UK residents to sign up for a subscription, prompting outcry on social media.

Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu
Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu

Our prayers were answered, however, when the 10-part series was acquired by Channel 4. Starting on May 29th, it has been airing on the channel at 9pm on Sunday evenings and on catch-up service All4.

Jay Hunt, Channel 4's Chief Creative Officer, said 'The Handmaid's Tale is a chilling and frighteningly topical exploration of a world where women are subjugated. I'm delighted that Channel 4 viewers will get to see this critically-acclaimed take on a classic novel.'

If you're not already up-to-date with this brilliant drama, here's everything you should know before watching...

It's based on the novel by Margaret Atwood

Released back in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is still among Canadian novelist Atwood’s best-known and most-read work. Often namechecked in the same breath as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, both of which also explore the impact of a hypothetical totalitarian regime that’s not too far removed from our reality, the book has proved disturbingly prescient in its unpicking of women’s rights. Following the election of Donald Trump last November, and his subsequent roll-back on abortion funding though the re-instatement of the global gag rule, sales of the novel have soared by as much as 200 percent; as of this week, it remains a fixture on Amazon’s best seller list.

It’s set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead – and you’ll notice real world parallels

The novel imagines a world in which right-wing fundamentalists have taken over the United States, creating a totalitarian state known as the Republic of Gilead. The society that emerges is inspired by the Old Testament, with women stripped of almost of all their rights. Due to a fertility crisis, women who are able to carry children are forcibly recruited as 'handmaids,' made to act as sexual surrogates for the wives of Gilead's 'Commanders' and valued only for their reproductive ability. Their status is marked out by their distinctive costume: a red dress and a stark white bonnet, hiding the face.

What's perhaps most terrifying is the ease with which the regime is able to entirely curtail women's freedoms under the guise of protection: first taking their jobs from them, then making them unable to access their money without male consent, ultimately making them chattel of their male 'owners.'

Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred

Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu
Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu ©Rex Features

Stripped not just of their rights but of their real names, handmaids are known as the possessions of their Commanders. The title character, as played by the brilliant Elisabeth Moss (who you'll recognise as Mad Men's equally brilliant Peggy Olsen), is Offred ('Of Fred'), who quietly starts to rebel against the regime, buoyed by the memory of the life that was taken away from her: a job in publishing, a loving relationship with her husband, Luke, and her young daughter.

She's joined by an all-star cast

In a striking departure from the Gilmore Girls role with which she's synonymous, Alexis Bledel plays Ofglen, a fellow handmaid and confidante of Offred who introduces her to Gilead's underground resistance. Orange Is The New Black fans who are still mourning Poussey Washington will be glad to see Samira Wiley as Moira, Offred's rebellious college friend, while Joseph Fiennes (yes, brother of Voldemort) plays the Commander.

Atwood herself has a cameo appearance

Cast an eagle eye over the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale and you might spot Margaret Atwood's blink-and-you'll-miss-it walk-on part in an scene that's especially difficult to watch. In a flashback to Offred's time at a re-education centre for handmaids, we watch a circle of women participate in ritualistic slut-shaming as one of them reveals how she was gang-raped as a teenager. When Offred hesitates before taking part, she is knocked on the head by an 'Aunt,' an older woman who overseeing the indoctrination of the handmaids, played by Atwood.

A second season has already been confirmed

With a second season already commissioned by Hulu, the TV show is set to go beyond the confines of Atwood's original narrative. Slated to arrive online (and hopefully, on UK TV screens) some time in mid-2018, Elisabeth Moss has teased to The Pool that things are set to get 'really dark'...

You can watch it every Sunday on Channel 4

Tune in to Channel 4 at 9pm every Sunday, or catch up on All4.

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