Even for those who have read the book, there is something raw and new in seeing Atwood’s tale on screen. Even when you know it is coming, it is hard to witness Offred – played marvellously by Elisabeth Moss – silently being raped by the commander, her head gently banging into his wife’s lap as she holds her arms down. It is tough to watch the handmaids hurry past lines of bodies hanging from walls, variously damned for being gay, Catholic, an abortion clinic worker. Women have eyes plucked from their heads, endure clitoridectomies as punishment. We are shown exactly how bad such a future would be, if it ever happened.
The novelist famously constructed her dystopian world using only historical precedents . . . Some have even praised the show for the timeliness of its adaptation, falling as it has so soon after the election of President Donald Trump. When before has America needed to take such a hard look at itself, and consider the hypocritical, misogynist prurience that seems to drive so many of its political figures? Tellingly, since the show started being promoted in America, women have been attending marches and protests dressed in the red robe and white bonnet made iconic by Atwood’s handmaids.