Welcome to the TV series that’s captured the climate of our times.
Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s renowned dystopian novel of the same name was published more than three decades ago. Yet in our current political landscape, the story remains terrifyingly topical.
The series dives deep into issues of religion, feminism, female subjugation and sexual exploitation. But it does so in such a powerful way. And it’s making viewers wonder: what can we do to make our current world better for all?
Not surprisingly, what actually went into making The Handmaid’s Tale is as fascinating as the show itself. Here, TV WEEK uncovers the answers to some burning questions…
Their iconic red dresses and starched white bonnets are beyond eerie. But that’s what makes them perfect for this dystopian world. In the fundamentalist new regime of Gilead, women have been oppressed and deprived of their rights. Now, they have only one purpose: to serve the men in their lives.
In this terrifying new world order, Handmaids have to cover their bodies at all times. In contrast to the Commanders’ Wives, who wear blue, the costume designers settled on “a shade of red that resembles blood as a metaphor for female menstruation” for the Handmaids.
Due to an epidemic in this futuristic world, only a small percentage of women are actually fertile. They are, of course, the Handmaids, who are forced against their will to give up their former lives and conceive children for upper-class couples.
The Handmaids have been stripped of their identities and reduced to “walking wombs”. Their names are no different. In Gilead, the Handmaids are forbidden to reveal or use their former names.
Instead, they must take on the names of their Commanders, who essentially own them in this new regime.
So when you hear “Offred”, it means “Of Fred” – as in, her Commander, Frederick Waterford. And if a Handmaid takes up a post with a new Commander, her name changes to match his.
According to the show’s designers, everything on the set of the series has a purpose and meaning. And they even drop plenty of extra tidbits for sharp-eyed viewers.
For example, in Offred’s bedroom, you may notice the outline of a mirror that’s been removed. This represents the fact the Gilead dictators despise vanity, but tells us there may have once been a mirror there.
Another good spot for super-sleuths is the lack of writing on the products in the grocery stores.
It’s startling to see the juxtaposition of the Handmaids shopping in a contemporary-style grocery store in their old-fashioned capes. But it’s unsettling when you realise there aren’t any words printed. Why? Handmaids are forbidden to read. (A truly cruel fate for Offred, who worked as a book editor in her former life in Boston.)
Elisabeth Moss, who stars as Offred, has carved out a name for herself in dramas including Mad Men, Top Of The Lake and The West Wing.
You may also recognise Joseph Fiennes as the Commander – a key player who helped implement the Gilead regime. Joseph recently starred on American Horror Story: Asylum, and is known for his role alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998 film Shakespeare In Love.
Orange Is The New Black fan favourite Samira Wiley is another to watch. She stars as the feisty Moira, Offred’s dearest friend.
Beloved Gilmore Girls actress Alexis Bledel also makes an appearance as the mysterious Ofglen, a fellow Handmaid with a secret.
The Handmaid’s Tale has already been renewed for a gripping second season, with a potential release date of sometime in 2018.
While the first season loosely followed Margaret’s acclaimed 1985 novel (with necessary adjustments for TV), the next season will branch out even further.
Thankfully, 77-year-old Margaret, who worked closely with producers on the first season – and even made a cameo as an Aunt – is on board for a second season.
Word on the street from star Elisabeth Moss is that it’s going to be even darker than the original – if that’s even possible.
Hold on tight, everyone!