The Handmaid's Tale Reviews
In 1990 director Volker Schlöndorff took on the task of bringing Atwood's ingenious vision onto the silver screen. Legendary scribe Harold Pinter adapted the novel into a script which is as much Pinter as it is Atwood. The lead role of Offred, a fertile woman serving as a handmaid finally went to Natasha Richardson.
The novel's strength was in the hauntingly subdued narration of Offred. A woman who used to live as a free woman before the fundamentalist revolution, she had already lost her identity to slavery. The prose showed her subtle awakening from extreme submission, a tale that poignantly illuminated the psychology of oppressed people. Schlöndorff's cinematic storytelling has to overcome the heavy literacy of the source material, which means that the movie is way more direct in its statements. Offred is anything but subdued, Richardson's performance radiates defiance and rage. She is fully aware of the insanity of the society around her, and she remembers her lost freedom vividly. Also, the Offred of the film connects more directly with the characters around her, whereas the novel's protagonist was always alone and detached, observing everything within herself.
Pinter is a master of vocalizations, which always made him such a good choice for adapting fiction. Here he uses his talent to give Offred a strong and unique voice; she says what she only distantly formulated in her mind in Atwood's paragraphs, acts what she only vaguely felt. The script is, as I already stated, very clearly Pinter. Compared with the novel the movie is quite different, even if the story is essentially the same. A tale of resilience is less interesting and scary than the source material's tale of forgotten identity, but as a movie this adaptation works well. When you mix Atwood with Pinter you can't really go wrong, even as completely different as their approaches are.