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The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi  |  9 March 1990 (USA)
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Reviews: 53 user | 21 critic

In a dystopicly polluted rightwing religious tyranny, a young woman is put in sexual slavery on account of her now rare fertility.


(novel), (screenplay)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Kate / Offred
Serena Joy
Aunt Lydia
Janine / Ofwarren
Zoey Wilson ...
Aunt Helena
Kathryn Doby ...
Aunt Elizabeth
Reiner Schöne ...
Luke (as Rainer Schoene)
Lucia Hartpeng ...
Karma Ibsen Riley ...
Aunt Sara
Lucile McIntyre ...
Officer on Bus


Set in a Fascistic future America, The Handmaid's Tale tells the story of Kate, a handmaid. In this America, the religious right has taken over and gone hog-wild. Kate is a criminal, guilty of the crime of trying to escape from the US, and is sentenced to become a Handmaid. The job of a Handmaid is to bear the children of the man to whom she is assigned. After ruthless group training by Aunt Lydia in the proper way to behave, Kate is assigned as Handmaid to the Commander. Kate is attracted to Nick, the Commander's chauffeur. At the same time, a resistance movement begins to challenge the regime. Written by Reid Gagle

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Branded: Sold: Controlled See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

9 March 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A História da Aia  »

Box Office


$4,960,385 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Faye Dunaway originally quit the role of the Commander's wife, believing her too weak, but a phone call from Margaret Atwood changed her mind. See more »


When Serena Joy shows Kate the photograph of Kate's daughter, the two are sitting on a sofa. After Serena hands Kate the photo, she takes a cigarette out of a pack and picks up a lighter. In the next shot, she's smoking the cigarette even though we have never seen her actually light it. See more »


Aunt Lydia: Oh God, make me fruitful.
See more »


Old Hundredth (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow)
Written by Louis Bourgeois
See more »

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User Reviews

Must See for Those Who Still Care About Women's Rights
26 February 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist (and poet) wrote the dark fantasy novel on which this film is based. It is set in The Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, or at least the parts of it that are not radioactive. The radioactive parts are called the colonies, where bad girls are sent to die of radiation poisoning. The time is the near future, after the inevitable nuclear war, and the breakdown of government as we know it.

The society depicted in The Handmaid's Tale is a nightmare: everyone is watched by the Eyes, unknowable, unseen government spies. Women are forbidden to have jobs. They are irrevocably assigned to classes. At the top are the chaste, but morally superior, Wives, almost all of whom have been rendered infertile by the inevitable unclear war. At the bottom are the housekeepers, or Marthas, who are non-entities. In the middle are the Handmaids of the title, who are fertile, but tightly controlled. The term Handmaid is a Biblical term that is used in the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Rachel. In the Bible, the wives gave their handmaids to their husbands in order to produce heirs.

Handmaids, in the film and the book, are forced to have sex with the Commanders, the husbands of the Wives. During this sex, the Wives are intimately present to take in any "love" their Commanders have to give.

The Handmaids are trained to remain unattached to the Commanders. They are prohibited from using makeup or doing anything to make themselves attractive. Handmaids are forced to turn their offspring over to the morally "fit" Wives.

Robert Duvall, a Commander in whose home Offred is placed, gives a family Bible reading performance that will curdle the blood of true people of faith. It is a breathtaking, heart-stopping performance.

The government is totalitarian and monotheistic. The one god is very strict, and has His Eyes everywhere.

Offred, who was once known as Kate, is a Handmaid who, despite her training (read brainwashing), recalls her past, her loving husband, and her adored daughter. She tells with sparkling, and terrifying clarity, how the society came to be the way it is.

This governmental aspect of the story is instructive, however, they are almost totally absent in the film.

Offred's/Kate's personal story is heartrending. It reminds one of the miseries of, say, the women of Darfur. When the government breaks down, she and her husband and daughter attempt to flee to Canada. Unfortunately, they are caught. Her daughter is "confiscated." Her husband is taken away. She never sees her husband again.

Offred's training is not as extensively portrayed in the film as it is in the book, but her feeling of terror and helplessness are palpable, in an exquisite performance by Natasha Richardson. Warning, blood is shown.

As we ride down the slippery slope toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade, this film is a must see for those who still care about women's rights.

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