The Hollywood Reporter Freaks: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ a ‘Timely Warning’ About ‘Religious Zealotry and Despotic Forces’

April 15th, 2017 12:26 PM

Hollywood Reporter critic Daniel Fienberg found ominous parallels in The Handmaid’s Tale a series on Hulu that debuts its first three episodes April 26. The subhead: “Hulu's all-too-timely adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel is one of the spring's best new shows and makes Elisabeth Moss an immediate Emmy contender.”

By “timely” they mean Trump, and Fienberg goes all in on the ominous parallels between Hulu’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 dystopian feminist novel by Margaret Atwood, and our current president, who marks the dawning of an authoritarian anti-female theocracy in government (which the left sees on the horizon since before Atwood’s novel was even published, but never mind).

Fienberg’s review, posted Thursday, is filtered through the lens of abortion on demand, or in his frenzied phrasing, “despotic forces combine to control female reproductive health and disenfranchise women.” There have been some pretty hysterical reviews of the Handmaid story in the wake of Trump’s victory, but this one may take the prize for paranoia.

Branching out from Nov. 8, 2016, is an alternate timeline in which The Handmaid's Tale could simply be enjoyed as a beautifully produced speculative thriller, a cautionary tale worthy of praise particularly for Elisabeth Moss' lead performance and for perhaps being Hulu's first essential original.

Many involved in this adaptation of Margaret Atwood's revered dystopian novel might prefer that the series just play as wildly imaginative genre fare instead of as an urgent and all-too-timely warning about a world in which religious zealotry and despotic forces combine to control female reproductive health and disenfranchise women.

It's an urgency and uncomfortable resonance that has only grown between the time I watched the premiere in January and then the second and third episodes ahead of the show's April 26 premiere.

He describes the show as “set in a chilly near-future...patrolled by the armed guards of the fundamentalist dictatorship of Gilead. Due to widespread infertility, the few women capable of giving birth have been enslaved as ‘handmaids,’ conscripted to couples of stature and forced into ritualized intercourse and child-bearing.”

And because most revolutions happen among those who sit around watching shows:

....Your perspective will determine if The Handmaid's Tale is a taut, arty drama or if it offers footnotes for a revolution.

....The nightmarish third episode shows the last moments of the collapsing old world, in which the unfathomable is realized, and the discourse we hear is indistinguishable from conversations currently being had by all-male state legislatures on abortion rights.

In his estimation, the male actors were properly sidelined (blows against the patriarchy, or something):

As great as Moss is, evoking pity and empathy and inspiration, she's surrounded by an ensemble of peers....If Fiennes and Minghella are bland and unreadable, it's because this isn't their story and they're intended to be.

Fienberg sadly concluded:

Regretfully, the 30-plus-year-old work has become a story for the very time and place we're living in; this is probably the spring's best new show and certainly its most important.