Films by Harold Pinter
The Handmaid's Tale 1987
Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway

Directed by Volker Schlondorff

Starring: Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern, and Robert Duvall

Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood

Screenplay by Harold Pinter not published

Set in a time when a build up of toxic chemicals has made most people sterile, Volker Schlondorff's film offers a disturbing view of a society under martial law in which fertile women are captured and made into handmaids to bear children for rich and infertile matrons. The film unfolds from the eyes of newly converted handmaid Kate (Natasha Richardson). She is trapped in this mysogynistic society which both deifies these fertile women as prized possessions and condemns them as whores. Throughout the story Kate has to cope with the jealousy of the woman she serves (Faye Dunaway), the advances of her sleazy military husband (the Commander, played by Robert Duvall), and the loss of her daughter, who has been shuttled off to a similarly aristocratic setting. She also falls in love with one of the Commander's security guards (Aidan Quinn), who sympathizes with her plight and potentially offers her a way out.

Natasha Richardson

Throughout The Handmaid's Tale, issues of feminism, abortion rights, male dominance, and conservative religious politics all come under fire. Some may view the film itself as anti-female considering its concepts, but it is quite the opposite. Instead it shows how only through solidarity can women bring down an overriding patriarchal mindset. The film, which works from Harold Pinter's screenplay adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel, features strong performances from those mentioned as well as Elizabeth McGovern and Victoria Tennant.

Bryan Reesman,



Further Reading

Nothing to fight for: Repression of the Romance Plot in Harold Pinter's Screenplay of 'The Handmaids Tale' by Grace Epstein (Pinter Review 1992-3)

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