Book vs. Movie: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Hey Guys!
It’s book vs. movie time. While I’m waiting for the next season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale to be released, I decided to check out the 1990 movie adaptation with Natasha Richardson as Offred. Let’s see whether it is any good!


The Plot:
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a near future were due to a mixture of pollution and diseases fertility rates dropped to an alarming level. Amidst this chaos a new totalitarian government, the Gilead, rises and brings changes. The society gets divided into different groups, each assigned a certain role. One of those new roles is the handmaid. These women are destined to bear the children of Gilead’s élite, whether they want it or not. One of those maids chronicles her old and her new life…


Book vs. Movie:
To be honest, when I picked up this book, I didn’t really know what I signed up for. I was in Portugal at that time and in dire need of something to read. At a bookstore I found a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and had a vague memory that there is a supposedly very good TV show about it. Off I went, ready to be impressed.
Margaret Atwood did not fail to deliver. From the first page on I was hooked. Somehow torn between wanting to find out more about this terrifying society Atwood writes about and having an urge to put the book down because it feels very realistic, I just couldn’t stop reading.
The characters are very well written, so you’ll definitely get emotionally invested. I ended up holding my breath or having to put down the book to simply take a deep breath and let everything sink in. I rather enjoyed how Atwood switched between chapters set in the present day, recounting the day-to-day life of the Handmaid and her memories of pre-Gilead and their rising. Thus, she intensified the feeling how fast this kind of things can happen and that everything can chance without you even being aware.
I especially fancied Atwood’s use of certain key sentences that were repeated throughout the book and kept ringing in my head long after I had finished reading.
However, the movie is quite a different story. I knew that the review generally weren’t that favorable towards the film but I still decided to give it a chance. I should have saved myself the time. The one word that kept ringing in my head was ridiculous. Nothing about this adaptation feels realistic or possible. The actors seem to be somewhat bored and there is barely any emotion or depth. The Handmaid’s Tale is a compelling story that can be translated to the screen perfectly – just take a look at the TV show. But this version completely ruins the story. Serena Joy for example. In this film she is simply irritating. The way she acts and talks is just weird and no matter what she says there is no emotion there, even when you can easily tell that it should be. The same goes for Natasha Richardson as Offred. You could really tell how bored she was. I guess she could tell this production was failure while producing it.
The biggest flaw of this film is that it fails to inspire fear. While reading the book or watching the TV show I was often horrified and the themes gave me food for thought. In contrast the characters in the film are just bla. Aunt Lydia – who gave me the creeps especially in the show – is just annoying here. The commander doesn’t radiate too much authority or demand respect.
This weak and bored execution of a compelling story is what ruined the film. There is no realism and therefore the plot seems too far-fetched and often even ridiculous. The only positive thing I have to say about the 1990 film is that Elizabeth McGovern did a wonderful job as Moira. But she doesn’t have enough scenes to justify watching the film for her.

The only word that can describe the 1990 adaptation is ridiculous. It’s an awful film that ruins a strong and inspiring story. You can definitely skip this production and just stick with the novel or the brilliant TV show.


Did you read the book? Watch the movie? Let me know in the comments what you think!

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5 thoughts on “Book vs. Movie: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

  1. Pingback: Thursday Movie Picks: Movies You Walked Out Of | The Punk Theory

  2. You are spot on with everything you said!! I just got done watching the movie. If I hadnt already watched the enthralling TV series I dont think I would have tolerated the 2 hours for the movie. But I was so curious. Such a fantastic plot to work with yet they managed to screw it up horribly!!

    Liked by 1 person

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