‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ — A Comparison Of The Film Vs. The Television Adaptation

by Frank Martin

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale television series has done such an amazing job that it’s often easy to forget that decades ago there was a film adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s novel. Obviously, the 1990 movie couldn’t do the same type of long-form storytelling the TV show has — especially now that it is multiple seasons long. Nevertheless, a lot can be said about comparing the two versions of the same story.

The differences between them can be told right off the bat as Luke (Rainer Schoene in the film), the main character’s husband, is killed when they are trying to flee the country. This seems to be the case in the show, but it’s revealed later on that Luke (O-T Fagbenle) actually survives and becomes an integral part of the story. The basic structure of the film compared to the show remains the same. A woman capable of bearing children (Natasha Richardson in the film, Elisabeth Moss on television)  is placed in a Commander’s (Robert Duvall and Joseph Fiennes) house and is raped by him under the supervision of his wife in order to bear them children. There’s also similar subplots as Nick (Aidan Quinn and Max Minghella), the family chauffeur, forms a relationship with her.

But beyond various details of the story that have been changed — to say nothing of the wildly different cast — the show definitely has a very different look and feel from the movie. The film is a bit more fantastical in nature. The show really hangs on to the fact that Gilead used to be America. It wants to hammer home for the audience that even though this is science fiction, the possibility of this happening is not that far off. This is in contrast to the film, which seems to remove a lot of Gilead’s connections to America. There is a brief scene in which the Commander pulls out a stack of magazines from the world before, but other than that, there is very little hint of the society we live in today compared to what Gilead has become. It is an almost fantastical totalitarian state in the film, compared to the show, where it’s more of a young, bastardized country that is fearfully trying to hold itself together.

The Handmaid’s Tale television series is now streaming on Hulu.

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