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The Handmaid’s Tale

For those who missed The Handmaid’s Tale when it first aired on Channel 4, there is a welcome re-run on More4 starting on Thursday 5 October at 10.15 pm, so set those recorders now.

Author Margaret Atwood was closely involved with the TV series and helped to update its context from the book’s 1985 roots. She also approved a number of other alterations to the original, partly to bring the context up to date and to reflect modern society.  Given the amount of differences between book and TV series, students need to be forewarned not to expect an accurate rendition of the original.

Amongst other significant departures is the multiculturalism of Gilead when its society in the book was segregated and white. Atwood herself feels that this change is justified and points out that the action has been transposed to the present day. “When you’re creating a world, you want it to be as real as possible, and this is a more real world than a more segregated one would be,” she comments.

However, the TV series remains true to the themes of the book, and the dystopian nature of the republic of Gilead and the world in which is exists is portrayed in terrifying detail. The underlying premise that chemicals and toxins have destroyed part of the natural world will chime with both readers and viewers today.  Atwood’s collaboration with the makers of the series allowed both of them to extend and update the original work and to produce something different, but no less powerful, and equally satisfying to both.


Further resources:

In this archived clip from Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (originally broadcast in June 1987), the author explains what influenced her to write its central message.


25 years after its publication, Margaret Atwood appeared again on Woman’s Hour ( 2010) to speak to Jenni Murrary about why the central message of the Handmaid’s Tale has never been more relevant. This clip is also available through the BBC Woman’s Hour website