Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ excels after flawed 1990 feature film disappointed book fans

Elisabeth Moss‘s upcoming Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which streams its first three episodes on April 26, is getting raves from those always hard-to-please TV critics and currently has a 97 score on Metacritic. But strangely absent from most of the reviews is any reference to the flawed 1990 film adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 novel.

In the rush to praise the series for its originality and anoint it an Emmy frontrunner, it looks as if some critics are overlooking the fact that the property was done before. While remaking classic Hollywood films has become a big business in recent years, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” seems unique since it is actually going back and trying to give a flawed film a second chance.

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Unlike recent remakes (did anyone really need to see a new version of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Carrie” when the originals were done flawlessly?) “The Handmaid’s Tale” was considered a disappointment when it was first adapted. The film flopped despite a script from famed playwright Harold Pinter and direction from Volker Schlondorff who had gained U.S. fame for directing “The Tin Drum” (1979), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Part of the problem with the original film was the somewhat stoic performance from Natasha Richardson as Offred, who serves her master in a dystopian future. Original star Sigourney Weaver, at the height of her fame post-“Aliens” and “Gorillas in the Mist,” had to drop out at the last minute due to pregnancy and Richardson, who was a relative newcomer to films, took over. Richardson is somewhat bland in the film and it is her co-star Elizabeth McGovern (“Downton Abbey”) who really steals the show as the lead character’s best friend.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ reviews: Critics rave that it’s ‘Hulu’s first essential original’

Faye Dunaway is also excellent in the film as the imperious wife for whom Richardson is supposed to conceive a child. Even with Robert Duvall and Aidan Quinn rounding out the cast and exciting art direction and costume design of the dystopian future, this 1990 version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was a box office and critical dud. If early word of mouth regarding the excellence of Hulu’s remake and Moss’s work in the lead role are to be believed, the TV adaptation will be an improvement on what was a noble failure the first time around.

In addition to Moss taking over Richardson’s role of Offred, the TV adaptation features “Gilmore Girls” star Alexis Bledel as a fellow handmaid named Ofglen which was a very small role in the film played by Blanche Baker. As the childless couple that Offred is forced to conceive a child for, Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski replace the characters portrayed by Duvall and Dunaway, while Samira Wiley takes on McGovern’s role of Moira. Max Minghella rounds out the cast as Offred’s love interest Nick, played by Quinn in the film.

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