Elisabeth Moss in BBC series Top of the Lake.
Margaret Atwood’s classic work of feminist speculative fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale, is coming to the small screen next year. Hulu commissioned a 10-episode drama based on the book and today The Hollywood Reporter announced that Mad Men and Top of the Lake star Elisabeth Moss will star as the protagonist Offred.
The mini-series has a pretty dynamic team: Margaret Atwood is on board as a consulting producer, Bruce Miller (who wrote several episodes of CW dystopian drama The 100) is writing the script, and executive producers include Fran Sears (The Sophisticated Gents), Warren Littlefield (who works on the Fargo TV show) and Daniel Wilson (who produced the 1990 feature film of The Handmaid's Tale).
The book, of course, revolves around the control of women’s bodies and fertility in a near-future theocracy called Gilead. In this new society, main character Offred’s status is reduced to “a womb on two legs.” She is forced to be a concubine for a Commander, with the singular goal of creating new children for the society. “Offred” is a slave name—it means “Of Fred,” the name of the commander, a reflection of a culture that strips women of their identities beyond their abilities to reproduce. When it was published in 1985, the book clearly critiqued the Reagan-era rollback of reproductive rights in the United States and the anti-feminist, anti-sex views of the Christian-right Moral Majority movement. Sadly, the book still feels extremely relevant today, in the era of Donald Trump rhetoric and closures of abortion clinics. Many of the measures backed by Republicans today—like forcing people to get ultrasounds before they get an abortion—feel like they could be straight out of Gilead and it’s easy to see shades of Atwood’s vision in the rampant harassment and intimidation of abortion clinics. This series is set to air in 2017 and I can’t help but wonder how it will reflect the current election.
I’m excited to see Moss in the lead role here. When she took the role of determined detective Robin Griffin in the excellent BBC series Top of the Lake, she brought a quiet intensity to a character whose difficult job was to investigate sexual assault in a small town with an old-boys-club police department. I bet she’ll bring similar grit and subtlety to The Handmaid’s Tale, where the titular Handmaid has to express a lot without ever saying much in a society where her speech and behavior are tightly policed.
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