This week on Blu-ray from creator Bruce Miller based on the 1985 novel by author Margaret Atwood and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is the stunning “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The Unite States is coming out of a civil war and a new government called the Gilead is ruling with an iron fist in a twisted mixture of totalitarianism and Bible verses of their own choosing. The first to be put under subjugation are women who are lower than second class citizens. Actually, the only thing lower would be Handmaids, women who still have the ability to bear children in a world of infertility.
June (Elisabeth Moss) is one such woman. After she, husband Luke (OT Fagbenle) and daughter Hannah try to escape the clutches of the Gilead, she is now under the thumb of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) who takes her job of instructing the Handmaid’s extremely seriously. Hannah is taken away and she has no idea where to find her or how. Once a woman named June, the red robes and white hat have transformed her into Offred and assigned to bear a child for Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
While acclimating to this new life, Offred remembers how it all began when her life was normal and she spent time with friend Moira (Samira Wiley). She recalls everything in her old life with such detail that it begins to take its toll on how she handles it all. She also learns that there could be someone in the house that can’t be trusted.
Offred becomes nervous when she learns from the Commander’s driver Nick (Max Minghella) that the Commander wants to see her in private, something that is strictly forbidden. Explaining it to Ofglen, she learns that there is a resistance group and is told to be very careful. When one of the other Handmaid’s gives birth, Offred remembers her life with Luke and the birth of their own daughter.
When Serena Joy wrongly believes there will be a child, Offred is punished and it brings back the memory of how she and Moira tried to get away from what was to happen to them. It is a Latin phrase that Offred discovers in her room that gives her the strength to find another way to survive. Especially when it is suspected that the Commander might not be able to get Offred pregnant and there is a chance that she could be reassigned elsewhere. They both agree to seek out another way.
The Commander is dealing with a Mexican trade delegation that comes to their home for dinner and one of the women of the delegation asks to speak with Offred. Wanting to know about her life and happiness, Offred lies in order to keep the peace in the Waterford home. The story takes a turn when the history of Serena Joy and the Commander comes to light and how a book written before the civil war has come back around. Offred learns that what she thought to be true about Luke has more to the story.
Putting Offred in more danger, the Commander decides to dress her up and take her out for the night. Nick drives them to an unscrupulous part of town where an old friend appears and Offred sees hope for escape but it’s going to take every ounce of will.
Trying to convince the Commander that she has true feelings for him is part of her plan. It all comes under suspicion when another Handmaid named Ofwarren turns the tables on her Commander and puts the fate of a child in danger.
In the finale, what happened to June once she was captured and taken to the Red Center comes to light. It is what happens when Serena Joy discovers what Fred has been doing and in anger tells him something that could threaten everything. Moira finds her way to freedom and Offred finally catches a glimpse of Hannah and in a verbal showdown with Serena Joy – all gloves are off!
The chaos becomes intense when the man responsible for Ofwarren’s actions is given his sentence, Aunt Lydia hands down the sentence for Ofwarren and when the Handmaid’s refuse to do what they are told — it is Aunt Lydia that saves them from death but at what price?
When the black van pulls up, Offred leaves quietly but June walks out on her own terms!
Moss as June/Offred has the unique ability to give this character such an intense range of emotions. Her anger is barely below the surface and sometimes when she smiles I am quite literally scared of what she may do. That’s what brings this character to another level and very deep into that level. When she does have the rare moment to say how she feels, it is a volcanic eruption that should scare everyone around her. Moss has given her own stamp to June/Offred and it is uniquely and underlying brutal.
Fiennes as Waterford is a man who once knew what having a normal life is like.
Becoming a Commander has put his life in a place I don’t think even he saw coming. When he is kind to Offred, she sees it as a chance to have something normal in her life but he is a man who uses what he needs to in this Gilead world and that includes Offred. His kindness comes at a price and the humiliations he heaps on his wife is a clear message that he has embraced the new ways. Fiennes is handsomely clever in his delivery of every word he speaks.
Strahovski as Serena Joy is a woman who has watched her life turn into something she never expected. The further and further the Gilead take over, the colder and more distance she becomes. She too remembers a life before this new world and who she was in it. Supporting her husband at all times, they begin to become farther and farther apart as she tolerates more and more. Turning to Offred is a chance to have something of her own — a feeling Offred understands. Don’t think Strahovski’s portrayal of Serena Joy is anything less than spectacular but stay away from those retractable claws and venomous actions.
Minghella as Nick has a plan of his own and that is to lay low and watch everything that is happening around him. What he didn’t expect is having feelings for Offred. The situation he is put in by Serena Joy makes it even more difficult for him to keep perspective. The dark and brooding look helps keep this character at arm’s length. He keeps his emotional distance and in doing do gives him the opportunity to observe everything.
Wiley as Moira is that outspoken friend we all have who isn’t afraid to make sure the world hears her yell. Her story becomes twisted in a world underneath Gilead. I love Wiley’s portrayal of Moira because it’s full of fire and an anger that comes from knowing she isn’t going down without a fight. Fagbenle as Luke is a man who believes his family is gone. He believed running was the only possibility for them and when his story is finally told it adds another dimension to a complex story and oh goodness what a twist it is.
Dowd as Aunt Lydia is a woman that is shrouded in mystery. I love Dowd and she can do no wrong in my eyes. I would never have pictured her in this role because, of course, when you read a character you sort of have a picture in mind. Now that I have seen Dowd — she is the true Aunt Lydia. When she played Patti Levin in another series called “The Leftovers” alongside Justin Theroux, I have come to appreciate her thrilling ability to make you love and hate the character she is wrapped up in all at the same time. Well done Ms. Dowd, extremely well done.
Other cast include Alexis Bledel as Ofglen, Madeline Brewer as Janine, Amanda Brugel as Rita, Nina Kiri as Alma, Ever Carradine as Naomi, Stephen Kunken as Commander Putnam, Sydney Sweeney as Eden, Jenessa Grand as Ofsamuel, Robert Brown as Pryce,
Birgitte Solem as Putnam Martha, Angela Vint as Leah, Kristen Gutoskie as Beth and Jordana Blake as Hannah.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment brings award-winning global product and new entertainment to DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD. Their amazing collection offers fans an opportunity to expand their own home libraries with the best films. To discover what other titles they have go to www.fox.com.
The Blu-ray and DVD includes three discs with the episodes “Offred,” “Birth Date,” “Late,” “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum,” “Faithfully,” “A Woman’s Place,” “The Other Side,” “Jezebels” and “The Bridge and Night.” The special features include “Script to Screen” and “Hope in Gilead.”
The soundtrack for this series is absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t mind having it for myself. The music just adds so much to the story as it unfolds, especially considering that I don’t think music would have been accepted in the Gilead world.
I read the book when it came out in 1985 and to be perfectly honest I still have that very same copy on my bookshelf. Having read it countless times, I was surprised when I heard it was becoming a series. Of course, the first season is very familiar to me yet I was still riveted. The storyline is even more drawn out and has the opportunity to put in the details that the film didn’t have time to.
The look of the series is gripping, twisted, and plays out every emotion whether it is directly in front of you or deep within a character’s eyes. This is a cast that has taken a story and made absolutely sure that not one moment is wasted in its telling. This series should definitely be filed under binge-watching because there is no way to watch one episode and walk away (she says at 12:30 a.m. after a day of binging).
The flashbacks are perfectly placed and enrich the story rather than cause confusion as the characters each have a story that needs telling. In this grey and dingy world that leads to a civil war, there is so much to know and after the rise of Gilead, it is extremely cool to be let in on how it all came to be.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has won eight of its 13 nominations from the Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series. The Golden Globes gave the series two awards that included Best Actress for Elisabeth Moss and Best Television Series. Be prepared as “The Handmaid’s Tale” returns to Hulu this April!
In the end — we will bear no more!