The Handmaid’s Tale, is a dystopian story based on the classic novel by Margaret Atwood. The fictional Republic of Gilead is a patriarchal society existing in New England in and around the early 2000s. Although the setting is mostly in Cambridge, Mass., a small suburb of Boston, in later seasons, the show takes place in Chicago and Canada. The Hulu original television series has received 75 Emmy Award nominations so far, with 15 wins. Unbeknownst to many fans, filming didn’t always exactly mirror the location in the story. So where is The Handmaid’s Tale filmed?
Where is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ filmed?
While most viewers think The Handmaid’s Tale occurred in the suburbs of Boston, many of the exterior shots in the first season actually took place in Cambridge, Ontario.
Similar in style, the planned community, established in 1816, sits at the convergence of two rivers. According to New Canadian Life, the stone buildings, distillers, and old woolen mills are part of the area’s humble beginnings. The iconic bridge, the wall where the women are hanged, and a local coffee shop were all used for filming in the small town of Cambridge.
The following seasons were also shot in Ontario, Canada, where Atwood was born. The primary locations were Toronto, Hamilton, and Cambridge. Smaller Canadian towns and cities, such as Brantford and Mississauga, were also used. Toronto City Hall was a prominent filming location, and many streets and buildings throughout the city replicated the Boston skyline.
There is an infamous scene in season 2 where the handmaids gathered in Boston’s Fenway Park awaiting execution. The Sun reported producers needed a place where the grass was long, so they utilized the Bernie Arbour Stadium in Hamilton, Canada, to replicate Fenway.
According to IMDb, filming in Toronto proved challenging. “Production for all seasons took place over the winter months when temperatures often dropped well below 0 on set.”
Filming in Washington, D.C., was tricky but well worth the effort
In season 3, episode 6, the Hulu series requested access to film at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a pivotal scene. According to Variety, the one-day shoot took seven months of planning.
Since the location is a National Monument, strict regulations were in place. The crew was permitted to film in the chamber area but was limited to five people at a time, and no audio recording was allowed.
Painter’s tape and chalk for marking positions were not allowed. Lighting and camera equipment were forbidden to touch the “irreplaceable” marble floor. Crews could not restrict public access to the National Historic Site, and D.C. police officers had to transport the prop guns onto the set.
The Washington Monument was turned into a giant cross
The epic scene filmed on the National Mall included 200 extras dressed in red handmaid uniforms with oversized white bonnets aligned on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
National Public Radio (NPR) host Lynn Neary was at the location and talked to producer Kim Todd, who told her the 200 women would look like a lot more. She explained, “We will replicate those with our visual effects so that the final shot will have thousands of handmaids stretching down the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.” Through the power of movie magic and digital effects, the Washington Monument was transformed into a giant cross.
The Handmaid’s Tale executive producer Warren Littlefield said June (Elisabeth Moss) was “kneeling on the exact same spot where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.” Calling it a “powerful experience,” he said, “Yeah, goosebumps and chills over what that means.”
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