'The Handmaid’s Tale': 15 Facts About Hulu's Dystopian Masterpiece

The Handmaid's Tale


Margaret Atwood’s harrowing tale about, well, many things is dropping its fifth season on Hulu today, and while Atwood used a bunch of actual events from the past to create her dystopian world where women are only seen as womb slaves, so much has happened since her 1985 novel that the series could probably go on for another five seasons. Praise be. Here’s a look at how this critically-acclaimed book found even more success on our picture screens a whopping three decades later.

The Story Is Based On American Puritanism


Atwood said that American Puritans inspired her creation of Gilead’s totalitarian government. “Harvard gave my book a sniffy review in Harvard magazine. But one of the persons it’s dedicated to is Perry Miller, through whom at Harvard I studied the American Puritans in great detail. The roots of totalitarianism in America are found, I discovered, in the theocracy of the 17th Century. The Scarlet Letter is not that far behind The Handmaid’s Tale, my take on American Puritanism.”

Now we get why she set Gilead’s public hangings in front of Harvard’s Widener Library.

The Series Updated Aspects Of The Book To Make It Reflect The 21st Century


While the dystopian novel plays out in the 1980s, some elements were changed to better represent our current reality, such as the nods to Uber and Tinder, as well as Offred writing a college paper on campus sexual assault instead of date rape. The characters were also changed to be more diverse, inclusive, and open about their identities — reflecting how society has changed.

Elisabeth Moss Wears No Makeup In The Show


In a Time interview with Atwood and Moss, Atwood explained the choice: “Bruce Miller, who is the showrunner and chief writer, he said he felt that it allowed the acting to be more direct and because every little twitch and twinge was visible. There wasn’t anything between you (Moss) and the camera.”

The End Of Season Two Divided The Writers' Room


At the end of season two, Offred (Moss) decides to stay behind in Gilead to rescue her daughter, Hannah. Initially, she was going to escape, and the decision to have her stay instead apparently pissed off some of the writers as much as it did the viewers. “It was an argument we had in the writers’ room for four months — just as passionately, probably more so,” said showrunner Bruce Miller. It was ultimately decided that by having Offred stay, it’ll give her character a renewed agency to do something truly bold.

The Shopping Trips Creeped The Actors Out


Most fans of the show probably know by now that the Art department had to create every single label on every item of food in that shop because, in Gilead, women aren’t allowed to read. That is why they get pictures of the food content instead. Actress Samira Wiley (who plays Moira) said that the brightly-lit shopping scenes were some of the most daunting parts to film. “When they go shopping, it's not in some old-timey-looking place. It's in a shopping center that looks like now. And I think those details make it a little scarier; it's really in the world we are living in right now.”

Based On Facts


Atwood has stated that she only used real-world atrocities to create her fiction novel. “I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behavior.”

The Train Crossing Scene Was Tough To Shoot

It may not look it, but when asked what the hardest scene was to direct, Moss said it was this one. “We shot it over two days and had completely different weather on both days. One day it was raining, which was great for the end of the scene when they are running, and the second day was beautiful without a cloud in the sky, which is when we shot the interior of the van. Thank God for my DP Stuart, who was able to make it match and look gorgeous.”

Commander Lawrence’s Secret Backstory


Bradley Whitford’s character was created for the show, so he came up with his own backstory for Joseph Lawrence. Whitford told The LA Times: “Early in his marriage, a child was lost.” That at least explains (kind of) why he helped save the children earlier in the series.

Stolen Art


The show’s production designers gave Serena and her husband, Commander Waterford, an added detail — that of being art thieves.  “We pretended like they went into the Boston Museum of Modern Art and stole all their favorite paintings,” said production designer Julie Berghoff. “Serena Joy is a watercolorist, and she loves nature, so she picked Monets.”

Elisabeth Moss Has A Big Hand In The Show’s Score


Composer Adam Taylor has said that he frequently consults with Moss to create the show’s haunting score. Moss herself explained: “I never tell him what to do in musical terms, because he’s the genius and knows that far better than me. I only speak in the terms that I know, the emotions and thoughts of my character and what’s going on in the scene. And then he takes it from there and does something that is better than I ever could have imagined.”

The Scene Joseph Fiennes Refused To Do


The actor told Entertainment Weekly: “In episode 9 (of season 2), we had a moment where Fred was going to rape — after meeting Luke — rape Serena in a hotel room straight after, and it just didn’t track for me. I had to go out on a limb and refuse to do it because I felt that even though Fred is who he is, he’s human. And I think that he would be reeling from the interaction with Luke, and that suddenly the reality comes face to face with him, and he would be digesting that and trying to understand it, and he wouldn’t necessarily be switched on by being in Canada in a new hotel and trying to heavily persuade his wife to do something that she wouldn’t want to do.”

The People Of Hope


As we've mentioned, Atwood used a myriad of real-world examples to create her dystopia, including the story of The People of Hope — a Catholic sect started in New Jersey in 1975 that calls their wives “handmaidens” and “subordinates its women, discourages social contact with non-members, arranges marriages, moves teenage disciples to households for indoctrination … it’s a form of brainwashing.”

The First Streaming Show To Win Outstanding Drama


In 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale became the first ever drama series created by a streaming service to take home the Emmys’ top award.

Amanda Brugel Wrote A College Admission Paper About Her Future Character


Amanda Brugel has been a big fan of the book ever since she read it as a teenager. She went on to write many dystopian shorts based on the novel, and even wrote her college entry thesis on Rita, who she’d later end up playing (brilliantly) in the show.

Not A Feminist Dystopia


Atwood has said that calling The Handmaid’s Tale a “feminist dystopia” wasn’t entirely accurate. She explained: “In a feminist dystopia pure and simple, all of the men would have greater rights than all of the women. It would be two-layered in structure: top layer men, bottom layer women. But Gilead is the usual kind of dictatorship: shaped like a pyramid, with the powerful of both sexes at the apex, the men generally outranking the women at the same level; then descending levels of power and status with men and women in each, all the way down to the bottom, where the unmarried men must serve in the ranks before being awarded an Econowife.”

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