‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Author Reveals Why the Movie ‘Didn’t Work’

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most famous TV shows of the past few years, however, before that it was an obscure film. The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood opened up about her feelings on the mostly forgotten film. Here’s a look at how the world reacted to The Handmaid’s Tale movie.

Art inspired by The Handmaid's Tale depicting handmaids
Art inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Hulu

What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ author revealed about the movie’s production

According to The Atlantic, the film version of Atwood’s famous novel was released in 1990. It starred Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall. At one point, Alien and Ghostbusters star Sigourney Weaver was committed to the project, however, she dropped out. In fact, many American actresses wanted nothing to do with the movie because of its political undercurrents.

During an interview with Variety, Ramin Setoodeh asked Atwood why the film adaptation of the book didn’t work. “The 1990 movie, the screenplay was by Harold Pinter, and it included voiceover by the central character,” she said. For context, Pinter was a famous playwright. “And then the director, being in a minimalist phase, took it out. I think it would have been better with it in. Natasha [Richardson], who I knew, she expressed to me in rather pissed off terms, she had recorded all the voiceover and tailored her performance against it. It was a lot more like we have now, in which you heard Offred thinking from time to time.”

The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood smiling
Margaret Atwood | Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

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In addition, Atwood felt the movie wasn’t long enough to retell her book. “There was too much story for 90 minutes,” she said. “That’s another answer to why the movie didn’t work.”

How did the world react to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ movie?

Atwood felt the movie didn’t work. This raises an interesting question: Did the public agree? According to Box Office Mojo, The Handmaid’s Tale movie earned over $738,000 during its opening weekend. Overall, the film made over $4 million. Even by the standards of the 1990s, the film was not a tremendous success. It didn’t become a critical success either, garnering a 32% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 42% audience rating. While some flop movies became cult classics, film version of The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t garner much of a following in subsequent years.

A trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale

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Even decades later the film languished in obscurity. According to an Atlantic article from 2018, copies of it were so rare they could go for $100 online. The film received a poor critical reception, unlike the book, which is widely considered a classic of science fiction. In the years since the film’s release, Atwood’s novel was adapted into a number of other forms of media, including an opera and a radio play. However, Hulu’s adaptation of Atwood’s novel was the first adaptation of the story to become a major phenomenon.

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