The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

R  |   |  Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi  |  9 March 1990 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.0/10 from 5,176 users  
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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2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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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
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


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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
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Did You Know?


Residents of Durham, North Carolina may recognize several landmarks in the film.

Examples include:

Duke University Chapel, where the Salvaging/Particicution was filmed.

The streets near Brightleaf Square and West Village, where roadblocks and checkpoints were built.

The American Tobacco Campus, where the Handmaids first met Aunt Lydia. Observant viewers may notice the Lucky Strike Chimney in the background. See more »


When Aunt Lydia introduces herself to the prospective Handmaids, a slow-moving freight train is rolling through the background. This train disappears when she snaps her fingers. See more »


Aunt Lydia: You are the lucky ones. You are going to serve God and country. I pronounce you handmaids.
See more »


Tongue Dance
Written by Les Rita Mitsouko
Performed by Les Rita Mitsouko
Published by Additions Virgin Musique
Courtesy of Virgin France SA
See more »

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User Reviews

as good as commercial film gets
7 January 2003 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I'm surprised by some of the negative comments on this film. In my opinion, it represents the best kind of literary adaptation that the cinema offers: One in which the screenwriter and director clearly remained faithful to the spirit of the book without attempting to reproduce it. How can you go wrong with a Margaret Atwood book, a Harold Pinter screenplay and Volker Schlöndorff's direction? Some have suggested that the film suffered from "wooden" acting. Personally, I thought it was a fantastic cast: Robert Duvall and Victoria Tennant at their evil best; Faye Dunnaway as the "defeated" wife; Elizabeth McGovern as saucy as ever; Aidan Quinn and Natascha Richardson in the necessarily bland roles that drive the narrative. What holes here?

Commercial film doesn't get any better. "The Handmaid's Tale" is a dark portrait of a world unlike ours and yet so much like ours... in which a right-wing, bureaucratic patriarchy dominates the land. Women have three main functions (for which their clothing is color coded): Red for the handmaids, who are walking wombs; white for the innnocent children; blue for the sterile trophy wives. Brown is worn by the "aunts", a futuristic equivalent of the Sonderkomando (i.e., Jews who worked on behalf of the Nazi's in the death camps), evil schoolmistress types who both train/brainwash young women for assignment and occasionally destroy them. A fifth function, for which the garb is particularly interesting, is "working" in Gilead's underground social club (essentially a den of iniquity, rife with prostitution and drugs.) Point is... by splitting up these functions, hasn't Atwood described the basic roles that women play within our own male-dominated society, in various different permutations and combinations? To the patriarchy, women are mothers, models, sluts, angels and, when professionals, they are not to aspire to more teaching posts. In Gilead, the lines are clearer; in our own society, aren't most women "supposed to" play some combination of all of these roles?

I get the feeling that most moviegoers are looking for something else in "sci-fi." Here's a new plot twist: The rebels feed Kate some kind of medication that allows her to read the commander's mind while destroying his brain. Wait... that's "Scanners." Oops. Seriously, two of the reviews on this site made spedific mention of Schlöndorff's "horrible", "atrocious" directorial skills. Ahem. Perhaps before they weigh in on the auteur, they ought to see "Young Törless", "Coup de grâce", "The Tin Drum" and all of his other wonderful efforts. As a matter of fact, to insinuate that someone who could bring Grass' Tin Drum to the screen in such a stunning fashion is a lousy director is PREPOSTEROUS. Schlöndorff is a giant of the New German Cinema, and it underscores the ignorance of the Hollywooders when they cast such baseless aspersions.

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