If you haven't seen it yet or haven't read the book let's try to set the scene without spoilers;
Mankind is failing, most women are sterile because of industrial pollution (or Mother Nature just having enough of us parasites). Birth rates are plummeting. An ultra religious cult see it as their God given mission to 'save mankind'. They seize power by staging a fake terrorist attack against the US government, impose marshal law and set about rebuilding American society.('War On Terror' anyone?) They use The Old Testament as their blue print, but with some totally wack interpretations and distortions. Fertile women become the property of the state. Brain washed and farmed out to the new ruling elite as baby makers, slavery and subjugation is all they can hope for.
Margaret Atwood, Canadian hero, social commentator, environmentalist, activist, feminist, tech inventor, business woman and visionary always maintained that this isn't sci-fi, but 'speculative fiction', things that have a chance of happening in the near future. Written in the '80's it's probably more profound now; the Neo Con Christian's have become a powerful force in US politics. Could there be a Tea Party without the ultra religious Republicans? Probably not. Maybe it takes a next door neighbour from Canada to really see what's happening with the totally dysfunctional family next door? It has always been a source of debate about how a country so entrenched in the ideas of freedom and liberal philosophy can also be the home of such obvious bigotry and divide? Surely teaching Creationism instead of proved science in some State's schools is a warning sign? Maggie may well ridicule this dogmatic un-thinking, however it's far from funny when she points out the possible end game and consequences for society and women in particular.
The book, although heavy going at first, is one of those you can pick up every few years and just dive right in (thanks to Una for making me read it back in '87). I was worried that this TV adaption wouldn't do it justice. How wrong I was. It's slightly different, and relies on a lot of flashbacks like the original narration; however this narration helps to smooth over the cracks nicely. So it still sticks faithfully to the principles and main events of the story, albeit in a roundabout 'more up to date' way. The subtle creep up and takeover of government and power has been well handled so far. I am enthralled, totally impressed and on tenterhooks with Bruce Miller's adaption. The direction is also smart, (the hanging scene seen from the back of a van was powerful stuff). Every image is a perfect composition, nothing is wasted, it's real art in the hands of skilled camera operators.
The feminism is subtle, not the clumsy and overt 'all men are bad, all women are good little victims' like of some of the more hardcore feminist literature. Maggie recognises that some women can be bad too, and some men will die to do the right thing, as you will see. Her book made a point that this could only happen if most women were willing parties too, and that a 2,000 year old book of moral tales can hold a massive amount of power when deliberately abused in the wrong hands.
It's also highly commendable that the cast are just 'normal folk', no super skinnies, models, hunks or pretty boys are in sight. This makes it all the more believable, it could happen to you and me. The lead, 'Offred' (Elizabeth Moss) absolutely nails it. No spoilers, but she will impress you with her canny nouse and determination to survive despite many obstacles and traps. I haven't seen one bad actor in here so far, they've obviously got bags of talent and emotional range. The design and resurrection of 'The Shaker Movement', as in the book, harks back to an American and European age of persecution and religious fervor.
Adhering to Maggie's descriptions of the colour coded dress, the production designer's subtle placement of now highly valuable Shaker furniture here and there helps; the muted drab colours, even in the opulent wealthy homes, take us sub consciously back to the times of Salem, witch trials, mass hysteria and life devoid of 'modern vices' like free speech, self determination, free love and modern relationships.
I can't wait to see how this progress', although I know how it ends (can't tell you, but get ready for some shocks!). It's been made fresh for me. I hope you will all love it too.