Critical Essays A Note on the Film Version of The Handmaids Tale


Filmed in Germany in 1990 for Cinecom, Director David Ray's version of Atwood's novel captures the desperation and duplicity of Gilead at the same time that it alters drastically the plot and style of the story. Some significant changes in the action include these:

  • identity of Offred as Kate, a former librarian
  • friendship with Moira begun at the Red Center rather than in college
  • Offred and Moira's overpowering and trussing Aunt Lydia to a urinal
  • bar-coded bracelets instead of tattoos for Handmaids, who wear veils rather than the white-winged wimples
  • a mutually satisfying affair with Nick, who acknowledges that Offred's baby is his
  • sound effects, particularly the cries of Kate's daughter Jill on the snowy hillside, ominous percussion during the roundup of blacks, and significant music, for example, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" during the presentation of Angela to the Wives
  • car bombing
  • theoretical identification of Commander Fred as head of Gilead's security
  • a black dress and boa and feigned identification as Mary Lou for Offred's night out at Jezebel's
  • Fred's rationalization that meeting clients at Jezebel's is good for business
  • gloves on Moira's hands to conceal the effects of torture
  • a luxury suite for Fred and Offred's clandestine copulation
  • Offred's murder of the Commander with a knife supplied by Ofglen
  • Fred eulogized by film clips on television news
  • Nick's tender, but hasty separation from Kate as she is spirited away from Gilead

Most significant to the film's conclusion is the absence of the final chapter, which is replaced by a brief glimpse of Kate, great with child, in a rural setting, where she lives in a small trailer and awaits messages from Nick.