The Handmaid’s Tale is a provocative protrait of a future totalitarian theocracy where women have lost all human rights. The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s bestseller belongs to that rare category of science fiction film dealing with dystopias.
Even rarer, Handmaid’s Tale is sci-fi from a woman’s point-of-view. Following a military coup, this future society called Gilead operates under martial law in a perpetual state of warfare (a la 1984), with Old Testament religion the rule. The so-called sins of late 20th-century society, ranging from pollution to such activities as birth control and abortion are blamed by the authorities as causing God’s plague of infertility, requiring drastic measures to preserve the race.
Natasha Richardson protrays a young mother who’s rounded up by the authorities to serve as a breeder, or handmaid, assigned to the barren family of state security chief Robert Duvall and his wife Faye Dunaway. Her travails unfold in Harold Pinter’s uncharacteristically staight-forward screenplay rather mechanically.
Though helmer Volker Schlondorff succeeds in painting the bleakness of this extrapolated future, he fails to create a strong and persistent connection with the heroine’s plight.