The Handmaid's Tale (1990) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Handmaid's Tale (1990)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Margaret Atwood's vision of a fundamentalist Christian dystopia is grimly fascinating, but much less trenchant than it might have been. It takes place in a future where pollution has rendered 99 per cent of the women in the U.S. infertile. The country is ruled by a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship, which has sequestered all fertile women to serve as breeders for sufficiently wealthy families. Made slightly after the heyday of the Christian right, the film clearly intended to do for that movement what Orwell did for Communism in 1984 -- to envision the consequences of its ideology. But, the film's imagination is limited, and concentrating as much as it does on the mandated child-bearing relationship of Robert Duvall, Natasha Richardson, and Faye Dunaway, it seems less a satire of a madly conservative theocracy than the more banal story of a maid trying to avoid her boss' advances. Schlondorff does little to enhance the film's apocalyptic intentions, shooting and framing much of it like a gothic romance gone awry. Duvall and Dunaway are as effective as they can be within the ritualized framework of their characters, but Richardon is strangely pallid as an ostensible rebel. Elizabeth McGovern has the best of it as a free-spirited "gender traitor" or gay woman, and her few scenes come as a welcome relief.

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Natasha Richardson
as Kate /Offred
Robert Duvall
as Commander
Faye Dunaway
as Serena Joy
Victoria Tennant
as Aunt Lydia
Traci Lind
as Ofwarren/Janine
Zoey Wilson
as Aunt Helena
Kathryn Doby
as Aunt Elizabeth
Julian Bell
as TV Announcer
Gary Bullock
as Officer on bus
Ed Grady
as Old man
Jim Grimshaw
as Eye in van
Tom McGovern
as Guard #2
Bill Owen
as TV Announcer
Robert Pentz
as Guard #1
Linda Pierce
as Another wife
Muse Watson
as Guardian
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News & Interviews for The Handmaid's Tale

Critic Reviews for The Handmaid's Tale

All Critics (19) | Top Critics (4)

The early '90s were also not exactly a robust period in political cinema, and the influence of the Moral Majority - so clearly felt in Atwood's text - wasn't as pronounced in the Bush I White House as it had been in Reagan's. But, sadly, it sure is now.

May 6, 2017 | Full Review…

At the end of the movie we are conscious of large themes and deep thoughts, and of good intentions drifting out of focus.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

The film is good insofar as it questions and provides no easy answers.

May 19, 2020 | Full Review…

For a movie about an encroaching fascist regime of horrific dimensions, The Handmaid's Tale is an oddly serene piece of work.

September 11, 2019 | Full Review…

The problem of the movie comes from the predominantly masculine vision that it offers: It is not in vain that the responsible for the film are two men - Director and Screenwriter. [Full review in Spanish]

August 14, 2019 | Full Review…

Schlondorff's treatment is idly drab and antiseptic, indifferent almost, as though he felt Atwood's vision was cinematic enough.

July 9, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Handmaid's Tale

The best thing to be said about this is that Natasha Richardson is really, really beautiful in the film. What a dull adaptation of a slightly less dull novel.

Jennifer Xu
Jennifer Xu

Super Reviewer

The screenplay and the film fall short of Margaret Atwood's novel. It seems more like Lifetime porn than a disturbing look at a possible future. Disappointing.

Juli Ryan
Juli Ryan

Super Reviewer

The film adaptation of a dystopian future as envisaged by Margaret Atwood. Part morality tale, and part cautionary, told with a touch of intrigue. Natasha Richardson plays a woman caught in a web of moral rationalization and becomes the chosen vessel for the Commander's (Robert Duvall) seed. His wife (Faye Dunaway) holds the reigns of power. This film does not hold up well, as most tales of the future do not. The prop master is limited in what technology he can predict and therefore the film looks dated. However, the moral and religious climate still makes the basic premise a possibility and for that, the story still resonates. Well done, but this viewer would recommend the book over this. The three main actors do a credible job, as do the supporting actors, Aidan Quinn and Elizabeth McGovern.

Mark Abell
Mark Abell

Super Reviewer

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