‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Happening Now

elisabeth-moss-as-offredThere are certain shows that require one to break down and get the streaming service subscription:  “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” on Netflix; “Transparent” on Amazon Prime. Now, it’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu, streaming) on Hulu.

What was once a site for mainly NBC reruns is now something worth putting in your entertainment budget. They’ve had a few decent original shows to date, but nothing like the new adaptation starting today of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 work about a future U.S. where the few numbers of fertile young women are corralled in a repressive society and do the bidding of rich couples unable to conceive.

Though there’s been other visual versions of the compelling story, there hasn’t been a series — especially one so well done, from its exacting and troubling writing, masterful directing, luxuriant look and the number of terrific performances within.

Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” fame hasn’t been in anything terrible in her admirable career and here she shines as a woman caught in the repression who finds her own way to survive. She’s newly assigned to a dour couple comprised of Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski. Fellow handmaids, forced to give religious greetings to one another include Alexis Bledel of “Gilmore Girls,” doing some of her best work, and Samira Wiley. Their stern overseer is Ann Dowd, who specializes in these things following her haunting role as a cult leader in “The Leftovers.”

Adapting the book to a series was a little tricky, says executive producer Bruce Miller told writers at the TV Critics Association press tour.

“Not only is this a book that people have read and studied for years, it’s been a movie, it’s been a ballet, it’s been an opera, it’s been a play a couple of times,” he says. “When you do a television show and you’re telling a continuing story, you make lots of changes just because the story is continuing.”

He knew how timely it all would seem in the current political climate. But he needed to do next to nothing to make it seem so prophetic.

“The book’s been around for 35 years, and every time someone reads it, they say, ‘Wow, this is timely,’” Miller said.  “I think one of the things that is the most interesting about the book is how relevant it is all the time, that there are aspects of the book and people pick out different aspects of the book that really ring true for them or seem to speak to the time that they’re living in.

“None of us could ignore what was happening” politically, he added. “I mean, I was writing the pilot script during the primaries, during all those debates.”

For her part, Moss said she had read the book years ago, “but not enough to enough to know I loved it, but not enough to remember the details, which was great because I was able to read the scripts.”

Reading the first two scripts without returning to the book gave her opportunity to consider what was there, she said. “I was able to see that I was still incredibly taken and interested in the story and still felt like it was something that I would have wanted to see.”

More than that, she added, “I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone else doing it. I had to do it.”

“It was prescient when she wrote it. It’s prescient today,” Fiennes said. “It’s kind of like a Shakespeare play in that it remains timeless in its content.”

“The book has been out for 30 years, and any year that we could have made it, it would have been relevant,” Wiley said. “But I do think that this is the time that we are living in now, and I feel like it is our responsibility as artists to reflect the time that we are living in.”

 

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