One to watch: The Handmaid’s Tale

Pic: Take Five/Hulu

It’s the show on everybody’s lips right now – and we can’t get enough of it. With episode three of The Handmaid’s Tale having aired on Channel 4 on Sunday (11 June), the show is well underway, and audiences are hooked.

Based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian near-future, where women are denied basic human rights after a religious-based totalitarian group overthrows the US government and a new nation emerges, Gilead. Here, women have no control over their bank accounts, they aren’t allowed to work, or even read. Due to pollution and STIs, the majority of the population are sterile, and the women who are able to have children are taken on as ‘Handmaids’, given to couple of high ranking to act as a surrogate – and the husband raping the Handmaid monthly with his wife present until she gets pregnant.

The show focuses on the experience of Offred, played by Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss. A woman separated from her husband and child to become a surrogate for Commander Fred Waterford (she has literally been re-named Of-fred) and his wife, Serena Joy. We see the new world through Offred’s eyes – and it’s nothing short of horrifying.

Gentle Sunday night viewing it isn’t. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Many of the themes which crop up in the show aren’t as far-off as you’d think. In fact, much of what happens in The Handmaid’s Tale still affects women today – and it really makes you think.

The way that Offred, Ofglen, and all the other women of Gilead are treated is shocking – and even more shocking when you see the crossover into today’s world.

For instance, in episode one, a woman talks about being sexually assaulted – and all of the other Handmaids have to point and declare that it’s her own fault. In society today, women who are victims of assault are often wrongly blamed – for being drunk, for wearing a short skirt, for changing their mind.

In the US, we’re seeing a government which is cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, an organisation which gives women access to birth control. In Gilead, birth control is banned altogether.

LGBT people are sentenced to death – something that still happens in countries such as Yemen, Iran and Nigeria. In episode three, Ofglen (played by Alexis Bledel) is found to be in a relationship with another women. Her punishment? Female genital mutilation. Something which is still practised readily across the world, particularly in African nations.

It doesn’t shy away from scenes of completely unjustifiable violence, against men and women. It sees people being sentenced to death for their sexuality, religious beliefs or intellectual status. It shows a world which is decayed, falling apart and turning on itself. It’s terrifying. And not altogether unrealistic.

The Handmaid’s Tale is not the kind of show you watch to take a load off your mind and relax. But it does make you contemplate the kind of world we live in now – and what the future could cold.

Catch up with the series so far on All 4.

Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale? What have you thought about it? Share your views on Twitter, @FamilyLifeScot.

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