“The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One” shocks and inspires

Updated: Apr 17, 2018

BLU-RAY REVIEW

Right, Elisabeth Moss won an Emmy for her performance as June Osborne renamed “Offred” in the Hulu series. (MGM/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

“THE HANDMAID’S TALE: SEASON ONE”


Blu-ray, DVD; 2017; Not Rated, contains intense, mature subject matter, sex and violence/for 16 and above; streaming via Hulu, Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube


Best extra: “Script to Screen”


WOULDN’T it be great if we could afford to subscribe to ALL the streaming services? Netflix, Hulu, Amazon – they all have great original programming.


“The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One” should not to be confused with the 1990 movie starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, although it is also based on writer/activist Margaret Atwood’s groundbreaking novel. Check out Hulu’s series, which won two Golden Globes and eight Emmys in all the big categories: Best Television Drama, Best Actress for Elisabeth Moss, Outstanding Supporting Actress for Ann Dowd, Guest Actress for Alexis Bledel, writing, directing, production design and cinematography. 


There rarely been a series so fascinating and provocative. Season Two will begin April 25, but don’t count on a binge-watch. Like most TV series, Hulu only releases one episode per week. Suspense is killer – something akin to Aunt Lydia (Dowd).


Meanwhile, Season One is now available from MGM in a three-disc set and streaming. Starring Moss, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes, the 10 episodes are set in a dystopian future in which a totalitarian Christian-based faction has overthrown the United States. (Imagine a triumphant civil war led by Mike Pence.)


In the newly formed Republic of Gilead, men have all the rights; women are severely suppressed. Forget voting, education is forbidden; silence rules, and women have no control over their bodies or reproduction. Procreation is performed through ritualistic rape. It doesn’t always work, so the ceremony is held every month. Even simple tasks, such as shopping, are strictly curtailed. The Handmaids must walk in pairs, each spying on the other for signs of non-compliance. They’re surrounded by armed guards and secret “Eyes” watching every move. Punishment includes torture, maiming and death.


Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and her fellow Handmaids assist with the delivery of Janine's (Madeline Brewer) baby.

How do they survive? Series Creator/Executive Producer Bruce Miller asks the question in “Script to Screen: The Salvaging,” one of two bonus features on MGM’s presentation. “Through a lot of the book you’re wondering, ‘if [the Handmaids] don’t have any outlet, how do they possibly keep all this bottled up without just, punching [someone] in the face?’” The organized violence of the Salvaging ritual helps, but also bonds them to Gilead’s regime.


So who are the Handmaids? An eco-plague has swept the world resulting in massive infertility. These women, haven given birth, are forcibly separated from their children, and turned into breeders for those in charge. This is a grim, unfortunately believable story. It begins and ends with a “Salvaging,” in which a Gilead-convicted “criminal” is to be beaten or stoned to death by the Handmaids.

Waterford slips June/Offred away from his home to an illegal secret nightclub.

June Osborne (Moss) is captured at the Canadian border trying to escape. Her husband is shot, and their young daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), is taken away. After brutal reprogramming, June is renamed “Offred,” becoming the property of Commander Fred Waterford (Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Strahovski). June/Offred’s mission is to survive, escape, and find her daughter.

“When it was published in 1985, the responses were quite different,” Atwood says in the extra, “Hope in Gilead.” “In England they said, ‘What a lively imagination you have, to be sure.’ In Canada they said, nervously as they often do, ‘Can it happen here?’ And in the United States they said, ‘How much time have we got?’”

The Handmaids prepare for a ritual Salvaging.

VIDEO

MGM has provided an excellent 1080p transfer (1.78:1 ratio). The award-winning production design and cinematography by Colin Watkinson looks rich and authentic. Color is gently muted, designed to apply a serious mood. Blacks are generally solid, but there is a touch of mild crush. Complexions are natural, with facial detail especially striking; clothing, objects and backgrounds are more subdued. There’s always a sense of menace in the darkened hallways and sunlit river walk, where hooded bodies hang from the walls.


AUDIO

There’s a whole lot of silence here, contrasted with a fine blend of ambient and effects sound (bullets, explosions, riots) on this standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue is crystal clear, and the original score by Adam Taylor, surrounded by ‘80s songs, is well balanced, complimenting each episode: SBTKRT, “Wildfire”; Lesley Gore, “You Don’t Own Me”; Bob Marley, “Three Little Birds”; Simple Minds, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”; Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”; Nina Simone, “Sugar in My Bowl,” “Wild Is In The Wind” and “Feeling Good”; James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James”; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “American Girl” and more.

The Handmaid's Tale | Offred Is Just Like Us | YouTube Video



EXTRAS

Only the two and we would have liked more. Hulu’s provocative series – a favorite among viewers and critics – left us burning with questions, which the two quickies, featuring creator, author and actor interviews, cannot satisfy. “From Script to Screen” only covers the opening “Salvaging” scene. “Hope in Gilead” is a brief look at how the show became a cultural touchstone.


It’s not a stretch to see how “The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One” helped inspire the #MeToo movement. “It seems far away, but it also seems like it could be so close,” Samira Wiley (Moira) says. “Little by little, [we can see] how it could happen.”


Still, despite the trauma, there’s hope to be found. In the final episode, the Handmaids, draped in their scarlet cloaks and white-winged headdresses, walk along the city streets, where June/Offred muses: “They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”


- Kay Reynolds


Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) accompanies Handmaid Janine (Madeline Brewer) to her next destination.

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