Handmaid’s Tale: Things Fans Should Know
The Handmaid's Tale impressed us from the very first episode and we are still excited about this show. Even more, we're excited to learn even the tiniest details about it.
Did you know that June's room in the house of the Commander has a few reminders about her previous life? What real person do you think became the prototype of Serena? And why choosing the perfect red color became a real problem for the costume director? We have the answers to these and many other questions about the darkest TV show of nowadays!
The Commander's and Serena's age
In the TV show, June and the wife of Commander Waterford, Serena, look as if they are of the same age. But in the book, Serena was much older. Even though the author never indicated her precise age, the Commander's wife is described as having arthritis and using a cane.
The actor Joseph Fiennes who portrayed Commander Waterford believes this subverts the audience's expectations.
“I think of Syria, and one particular leader, who looks like a very nice academic,” he says. “You would never attribute the horrors happening there to somebody who looks like that. I love the complexity of wrongfooting the audience with someone’s age and the way they look.”
It's hard to disagree with him. Looking at this beautiful married couple, it is impossible to guess what horrors are happening behind closed doors.
Where Is the Series Filmed?
The events in the series take place in what used to be Boston, Massachusetts. But the actual filming took place in Toronto and the suburbs, which, as fans of the book and the show will know, is ironic, since Toronto is where refugees from Gilead escape to. The used locations roughly divide into suburb and city, with the latter film in two small towns near Toronto.
The town Hamilton is where the house where June is stationed with the Commander and his wife is located. The wall by the water, where the Handmaids pass hanged bodies, is real, and it is located in Cambridge in Ontario. Coronation Park in Oakville was used to film scenes where the Handmaids gather outside for different ceremonies.
Elisabeth Moss Is Also a Producer
The actress has not only portrayed the main role, but she was also the show's producer.
“It’s a [...] load more work — it’s just constant — but it’s so much more fulfilling as well,” she says. “I don’t just show up, do my scene and leave. If I’m not acting, I’m making calls, I’m watching cuts of episodes.”
According to Moss, working on this project made her a stronger person. “Having to say my own ideas, having to go up against people, having to argue, has definitely brought out, I think, a bit of a strength in me that I didn’t know that I had,” the actress said
Although the second season of the series came under fire by some fans for being “too dark” and “hard to watch,” Moss said that she feels the job gives her an outlet.
”Usually I say, ‘You have to watch,’ though,” she said, “because that’s real. If you can’t watch a TV show we’re making about it, how are you going to be able to confront and look at what’s actually happening around you in your country and this world?”
The Commander Borrowed Artworks for His Home
Most of the events in the show, especially from season 1, take place within just one location, in The Commander's house. Over the two seasons, we got so used to this place that we know the location of every room. But have you ever paid attention to the pictures on the walls? Serena is fond of painting and gardening, so it is no surprise that there are pastoral paintings hanging in her sitting room.
But look at them more attentively... Can you recognize Monets? That is right, the position of The Commander allowed him to borrow a few paintings from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As always, the "devil is in the details". Be honest and confess that you had no idea about it!
As you remember, before creating Gilead, June worked as a book editor, but now, she, like other women, is not allowed to read and write. The showrunners decided to place a few reminders of her previous life in her room.
“We put a desk there, but she can't write. So it's almost like a remnant, a remembrance of ‘Oh, I was a writer, an editor. I can't even sit and write anymore,’” production designer Julie Berghoff says.
Besides, we can see an empty mirror frame on the wall.
“They don’t want you to be vain anymore, so we basically put the shape of a mirror on the wall to make it feel like at one point there was a mirror there," Berghoff said. Moss says she noticed something else missing in the room:
“The most distinctive thing about Offred's bedroom is that there are no locks on the doors and there's nothing in there that you could hurt yourself with, so that's a political message as far as women's rights," Moss says.
The Author of the Book Had an Episodic Role
Beyond just adapting the novel, the series invited Margaret Atwood to be a part of the production process from the beginning, so she’s had a hand in shaping the new version of the world.
"We wanted her to cameo in the first episode, and we knew she'd play an Aunt — that's the only thing that made sense for her to play — and in that scene, I'm supposed to be slapped by an Aunt, and so we were like, 'Oh, how about Margaret Atwood?!'" Moss told GQ.
When Offred hesitates to participate in the shaming, Atwood steps forward and hits the side of her head. The author confessed the scene was hard to film.
"Although it was 'only a television show' and these were actresses who would be giggling at coffee break, and I myself was 'just pretending,' I found this scene horribly upsetting," Atwood said. "It was way too much like way too much history."
Offred in the Book vs. Offred in the Series
When the servants move to a new house, they get new names that are linked with the new master's name. Hence Fred’s handmaid is Offred, Glen’s handmaid is Ofglen, etc. Atwood never revealed Offred’s birth name in the book. Some astute readers suspected that June was Offred’s real name. When Offred first arrives at the Red Center, she and the other women “exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.” June is the only name on that list that is not connected with any other character in the book.
Atwood said of the theory: “That was not my original thought but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish.”
It's also worth mentioning that unlike rebellious June in the series, in the book Offred is a much more passive character. When the government first outlaws jobs for women, she does not go outside to protest. When Ofglen later asks Offred to spy on her commander, Offred decides not to. Her priority is to survive, not to rebel.
Gilead in the Movie is More Diverse
In the book, the government of Gilead separates people of different races, just like the Nazis. But the TV version of The Handmaid's Tale has a more diverse cast of characters — including Offred's friend, Moira and Offred's husband, Luke. Also, more characters in the show than in the book identify themselves as LGBTQ.
While Moira, June's best friend, is openly gay in the book, June says she has to adjust to the news after Moira comes out.
But, unlike in the book, the TV show, June is fine with her friend's sexuality. Elisabeth Moss explained the changes they decided to make in terms of diversity:
“We wanted the show to be very relatable. We wanted people to see themselves in it. If you’re going to do that, you have to show all types of people. You have to reflect current society.”
This Is the 10th Adaptation of the Book
Hard to believe it, right? A stage version premiered at Tufts University just a few years after the book was published in 1985; there’s also been an opera and even a ballet. Also, it was twice performed as a radio play and made into a movie in 1990.
The movie had quite famous actors in it: Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, Duvall as The Commander, and Elizabeth McGovern as Moira.
However, despite such cast, the film was not well received and had a messy production. Director Volker Schlöndorff replaced original director Karel Reisz amid internal bickering over a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
It's nice to realize that the latest adaptation is probably the most successful one. It brings out the best in the book and, although it's pretty dark, it's impossible not to love it.
Serena Joy Waterford Has a Prototype
In season 2, we learn more about Serena Joy Waterford and her beginnings. She was a conservative activist who, along with her husband Fred, spearheaded the Puritan movement that ultimately gave rise to Gilead.
According to the rumors, Serena was based on conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who established herself over many years as one of the fiercest antifeminist advocates in the USA. Schlafly also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, which she considered an attack against traditional gender roles.
Margaret Atwood Released a Follow-Up
In September of this year, the author Margaret Atwood released a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale called The Testaments.
However, this book isn't connected with the show and features the testimonials of 3 female narrators from Gilead. It is a so-called epilogue to the events in the first book, which ends much in the way season 1 ends: with Offred entering the van due to Nick's insistence.
#TheTestaments may be about fictional censorship and banned expression but dictators around the world distort and withhold information. Will you join @margaretatwood in protecting freedom of expression? https://t.co/claUva2QJA pic.twitter.com/6zpgE9ejMt— PEN America (@PENamerica) December 3, 2019
The Testaments book is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and narrated by three women.
“Dear Readers,” Atwood wrote in a press release announcing the book. “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”