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Handmaid’s Tale, The (1990)

In the future, America – now called Gilead – is ruled by puritanical right-wing extremists. Nuclear fallout and pollution have rendered most women infertile and the remaining fertile women like Kate (Natasha Richardson, the gifted daughter of Vanessa Redgrave) are now prized possessions, called “handmaids”.

With her husband murdered and her daughter taken away, Kate is pressed into baby-making service for “the Commander” (Robert Duvall), whose wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway) is infertile.

But if Kate – now called Offred – fails to produce for the Commander, it’s curtains for her.

The movie is actually sillier than it sounds. There’s a strict dress code: Handmaids wear red, wives blue, and “aunts” (guardians of the handmaids) brown.

Kate’s transitions from widow to handmaid to secret lover of the Commander’s chauffeur, Nick (Aidan Quinn) to underground rebel to assassin happen so fast that her emotions barely have time to register.

It’s hard to believe that playwright Harold Pinter (who did the screenwriting from the original novel by Canadian Margaret Atwood) could have come up with this bilge. Only Elizabeth McGovern, as Moira, a handmaid with a problem – she’s a lesbian – provides any fun.

Atwood’s novel was internationally acclaimed and encompassed misogyny, racism, fascism, fundamentalism, censorship, pollution and sexually transmitted diseases, but the movie has narrowed the focus to male chauvinist pigs who like to put women in their place.

Once again, Hollywood turned a challenging book into negligible cinema. Forget the $13 million budget, this Handmaid’s Tale is merely a piss-poor rehash of The Stepford Wives(1975) with delusions of grandeur.

Natasha Richardson
Serena Joy
Faye Dunaway
Aidan Quinn
Elizabeth McGovern
Aunt Lydia
Victoria Tennant
Robert Duvall
Blanche Baker
Traci Lind
Aunt Helena
Zoey Wilson
Aunt Elizabeth
Kathryn Doby
Reiner Schöne
Lucia Hartpeng
Aunt Sara
Karma Ibsen Riley
Lucile McIntyre

Volker Schlondorff