When I heard that there was going to be a TV series adaptation of what is, in my opinion one of the best books of the last century, I was both excited and apprehensive. So when the first episode finally aired in the UK at the end of last month, I was eager to get it watched and find out which emotion had been the most accurate.
Two episodes in and I can undoubtedly say that this is one of the best page to screen adaptations I have ever seen. The writers have done a tragically, horrifyingly beautiful job of portraying the horror of Gilead and the world that Offred (or June) has been thrown into.
One of the concerns I had was that the book would suffer from typical Hollywood over dramatisation which would ruin the terrifyingly real feel of the book. But thankfully, no such thing has occurred.
I have found myself trembling and shaking my head and snarling at the TV during each episode as I watch the total horror unfold, just as I did when reading the book. My hand at my gaping mouth I have found myself close to tears and fuming at the world that Atwood depicts, and the knowledge that if the human race isn’t careful, and doesn’t learn to unite and adapt and value each human life regardless of gender, sexuality, race or religion, we could be headed for just such a future.
One scene that stood out to me remarkably here, and in Atwood’s book, is the scene which has Janine telling her story. We hear that she was the victim of a gang rape, which in itself is mortifying enough. But what follows is the ‘Aunts’ in the Red Centre asking who was to blame for the attack: “Who lead them on?” and encouraging the other women to chant “She did.” Though in the book Janine failed to come across as a particularly sympathetic character after this point, the TV Janine continues to be so, we see her descent into madness and her brutal mutilation at the hands of this new world and I for one found this adaptation to be one that served to deepen Janine’s character and made the situation seem all the more dark compared to her reluctant and eventual acceptance of her fate which we see in the book. The series has done more to ensure this by showing us scenes that the book never could, such as Janine nursing the baby which she must let another woman raise, whom she will never be acknowledge as the biological mother of. Janine tells her daughter of the son she had in her old life and reminds the baby that she is her mother, before singing to her in a scene that was understated and heartbreaking.
Luke too, is given far much more of a character in this adaptation. Perhaps it is simply the effect of putting a face to the name, but it is more likely to have resulted from the clarity and emotion of Offred’s flashbacks. Whilst in the book Offred’s memories seem to become murky and disjointed, here we get clear snapshots of her old life, days out with her husband and daughter, the birth of her daughter and a scene where another woman, whose child died attempts to take Offred/June’s daughter from the hospital.
Whilst watching, it feels as though the writers were incredibly aware of the relevance of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale even 30 years on, and as such, have stayed true to the very core of the novel.
If I had one criticism it would be that The Commander didn’t seem old enough, for me. When reading the book I had imagined Offred’s Commander to be an old, spindly and incredibly bony man which initially made her experience feel truly gruesome to me. However, watching the series, my mind rapidly changed on this matter and I felt as though my initial feelings regarding The Commander’s age were incredibly naive. Because ultimately, however the commander looks, Offred’s situation is horrific and no matter how you look at it, the events that are depicted in both the book and novel are nothing short of torture and rape, which ultimately are dreadful regardless of who commits them.
I, personally, look forward to the progression of this series and hope that they continue to stay true to the novel and don’t succumb to the Hollywood tendency to extend beyond the book’s narrative.