The Handmaid's Tale (1990) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Handmaid's Tale (1990)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Margaret Atwood's vision of a fundamentalist Christian dystopia is grimly fascinating, but much less trenchant than it might have been. It takes place in a future where pollution has rendered 99 per cent of the women in the U.S. infertile. The country is ruled by a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship, which has sequestered all fertile women to serve as breeders for sufficiently wealthy families. Made slightly after the heyday of the Christian right, the film clearly intended to do for that movement what Orwell did for Communism in 1984 -- to envision the consequences of its ideology. But, the film's imagination is limited, and concentrating as much as it does on the mandated child-bearing relationship of Robert Duvall, Natasha Richardson, and Faye Dunaway, it seems less a satire of a madly conservative theocracy than the more banal story of a maid trying to avoid her boss' advances. Schlondorff does little to enhance the film's apocalyptic intentions, shooting and framing much of it like a gothic romance gone awry. Duvall and Dunaway are as effective as they can be within the ritualized framework of their characters, but Richardon is strangely pallid as an ostensible rebel. Elizabeth McGovern has the best of it as a free-spirited "gender traitor" or gay woman, and her few scenes come as a welcome relief.
R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Drama , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
HBO Video


Natasha Richardson
as Kate /Offred
Robert Duvall
as Commander
Faye Dunaway
as Serena Joy
Victoria Tennant
as Aunt Lydia
Blanche Baker
as Ofglen
Traci Lind
as Ofwarren/Janine
David Dukes
as Doctor
Zoey Wilson
as Aunt Helena
Kathryn Doby
as Aunt Elizabeth
Julian Bell
as TV Announcer
Gary Bullock
as Officer on bus
Ed Grady
as Old man
Jim Grimshaw
as Eye in van
Tom McGovern
as Guard #2
Janell McLeod
as Martha
Bill Owen
as TV Announcer
Robert Pentz
as Guard #1
Linda Pierce
as Another wife
Muse Watson
as Guardian
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Critic Reviews for The Handmaid's Tale

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (3)

overblown paranoid crap based on same.

December 21, 2004
Greenwich Village Gazette

Pretentious, self-righteous melodrama about the evils of patriarchy

December 17, 2004
Film Journal International

Harold Pinter's adaptation has its powerful moments, but ultimately the narrowing of the novel's scope dilutes the story's message too much.

Full Review… | August 17, 2003
James Sanford on Film

This film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's bestselling 1986 novel heralds freedom as a cherished ideal.

Full Review… | July 10, 2003
Spirituality and Practice

Uneven yet still gripping

November 16, 2001

Audience Reviews for The Handmaid's Tale


I think the movie abridged to much from the book to be good. Many elements that connected you (or disconnected you) from the characters were missing. Not a fair representation of the book at all.

Brendan Rowlands
Brendan Rowlands

The best thing to be said about this is that Natasha Richardson is really, really beautiful in the film. What a dull adaptation of a slightly less dull novel.

Jennifer Xu
Jennifer Xu

Super Reviewer

The screenplay and the film fall short of Margaret Atwood's novel. It seems more like Lifetime porn than a disturbing look at a possible future. Disappointing.

Juli Ryan
Juli Ryan

Super Reviewer

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