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DVD Review: The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1)


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Though tough to binge-watch in succession thanks to its grim, thought-provoking themes, Hulu's Emmy award-winning adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale is every bit the definition of quality television.

Set under a horrific totalitarian regime in modern-day America, the series follows the plight of the Republic of Gilead's 'Handmaids' - fertile young women who, in a sterile new world, are captured and indoctrinated into serving as child-bearers for government officials.

The story's main protagonist, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) introduces us to this world of injustice with hauntingly blunt asides that reveal the brutal, merciless nature of Margaret Atwood's dystopian vision.

For modern viewers with feminist or humanist sensibilities, this show will provide much in the way of shock value and thought-provoking, anger-inducing scenes. As we follow Offred into her new 'assignment' as the concubine for Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski), we are faced with a multitude of appalling images and sequences that highlight the injustice of Gilead's social system. 

Chief among such scenes is what is referred to as 'the ceremony' - a scene of ritualised rape in which handmaids like Offred must submit to insemination by their masters in the hope that they might conceive. Though this is a difficult subject to tackle, even through the fiction of this dystopian setting, the act itself is filmed with thinly veiled delicacy. The scene is largely silent, earmarked by harsh, reverberating thumps that, accompanied by Moss' still, sullen expression, evoke Offred's resilience throughout the trauma. 

Though Atwood's story and ideas have been around for more than 30 years in various media, their place within a setting that is eerily close to home is poignant and affecting. Throughout the series, we are confronted by many troubling themes and scenes that echo uncomfortably (but vitally) in this #MeToo climate.

As immersive as it is with its compelling storytelling, the series also certainly holds up to the industry standard in terms of aesthetic. It's crisp, stark cinematography is as telling as Offred's narration, while the score provides an eerie backdrop to the horrors onscreen.

The performances on offer in this series are also incredibly captivating and more than worthy of the acclaim they have received in recent months. Moss' central turn as the resilient Offred is subtle, yet powerful. Often silenced by the strict subjugation of her character, much of Moss' performance is expressed through her eyes, which take a solemn, reflective quality in the face of such trauma.

Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski are similarly impressive as Offred's masters/captors. Despite the innate ugliness of the regime they helped create, there is more to the Waterfords than meets the eye and the layered, nuanced performances that Fiennes and Strahovski offer evoke that perfectly.

Meanwhile, Samira Wiley and Alexis Bledel also offer strong performances as fellow handmaids who are each too fierce to keep in line. Props must also go to Ann Dowd for creating such a detestable antagonist as Aunt Lydia - for all the wrong reasons, Dowd steals each scene that she is in. 

With its long-awaited DVD release comes a small selection of bonus features which delve into the series' important themes in more detail. 'From Script to Screen' follows the behind-the-scenes journey of filming the harrowing first episode, featuring interviews with the cast and crew as they discuss the character arcs and story points that lead the series.

'Hope in Gilead' meanwhile is a featurette that explores the phenomenal response that the series has garned from critics and audiences alike, whilst also commenting on the series place in today's political climate.

A vital and compelling series that presents an all too possible nightmare, The Handmaid's Tale is must-watch television.

The Handmaid's Tale: Season One is available on DVD now. 

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