The upcoming Handmaid’s Tale series will veer only a little bit away from the source material, although it is quite a big change in terms of the storyline.
This version will not have the white supremacist element to the Republic of Gilead. The theocratic military dictatorship that in a near-future has stripped women of many rights (reading included) and forced many to serve as handmaids — vessels through which society can procreate, after pollution has decimated fertility rates. Minorities, though, women included, were sent away to “homelands” in the Midwest.
However, in this series we already have the casting of Samira Wiley as Monica, a Handmaid. When asked about the change, executive producer Bruce Miller said it was due to “a huge discussion with Margaret Atwood, and in some ways it is ‘TV vs. book’ thing.” After all, on the printed page, “It’s easy to say ‘they sent off all the people of color,’ but seeing it all the time on a TV show is harder." He added, “Also, honestly, what’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show? Why would we be covering [the story of handmaid Offred, played by Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss], rather than telling the story of the people of color who got sent off to Nebraska?”
Also supporting the decision to have black handmaids, “The evangelical movement has gotten a lot more integrated” in the decades since the book was published, Miller notes. But, perhaps the biggest driver behind the change — the one that made sense, story-wise — is the fact that given the setting’s dire birth rates, “I made the decision that fertility trumped everything,” the EP shares.
This does make a lot more sense in terms of the story and how the world is now, so I am not that bothered about this change. A slighter change — casting Serena Joy younger with Yvonne Strahovski was done to put her in “direct competition” with Offred, who is trying to give Serena and her commander husband a child, Miller explained.
This actually makes more sense biologically, as in the book and the original film Serena Joy was older so less likely to have been able to have a child at that age. It is also thought that it was the Commander that was the issue, not Serena. Which Serena knows about, as she is keen for Offred to meet with Nick to increase the chances of a pregnancy.
All told, Miller said during the series’ panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, it wasn’t so much about “tweaking” the source material but “adapting it for television,” where “the story is continuing, potentially for many seasons.” We’re certainly loyal to the book, so any changes we make are mindful of the fact,” Miller asserted. Nor have any changes been made simply to “surprise” those who know where the story is going. “[We’re not] playing those kinds of games with the audience. We’re just trying to tell this story well.” Which is great, although, if it is planned as a long running show, I hope they have plans in place in case it doesn’t last. However, the casting so far does point to it being a very good adaptation of fantastic source material, so my hopes are high for at least three seasons.