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The Handmaid's Tale starts on Irish telly this weekend - here's why you should watch it

The Margaret Atwood adaptation has already earned rave reviews in the US.

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THE MOST-TALKED about TV show in the US at the moment is easily The Handmaid’s Tale, an adaptation of the classic 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood.

The series stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred, a woman living in a dystopian America – and it’s starting on Channel 4 this Sunday. Here’s why you should watch it.

It’s an adaptation of a must-read feminist novel

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When the The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, it was banned in many American schools for its explicit material and ‘negative view’ of religion.

It’s set in a totalitarian, theocratic America (renamed Gilead) where women have no rights, and fertile women are assigned to the Gileadean leaders as ‘handmaids’ for the purpose of bearing children.

The Handmaid's Tale Premiere - Los Angeles Margaret Atwood SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

Women are not even permitted to have names – they are referred to instead by the name of the man who ‘owns’ them. Offred is ‘Of-Fred’, the Commander she serves.

It feels startlingly current

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The book indicated that the story was set in 2005, but the TV adaptation moves things up to the present day, with jarring references to modern technology, clothing, and culture.

The series is punctuated by flashbacks to pre-Gileadean times, showing how the regime began and how quickly things changed for women – losing their right to work, their bank accounts, and then, their independence.

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Since the election of US President Donald Trump, people have been drawing comparisons between the book and real life – and though it was optioned before the election, the comparisons have continued with the TV series. Showrunner Bruce Miller told The Hollywood Reporter:

The book is nearly 35 years old, so if it’s anti-Trump, God bless time traveller Margaret Atwood. Certainly the current political climate affected us, but it was never a discussion about particular people or particular programs that were going to be in place.

All the same, some scenes, like one featuring a protest about women’s rights, are chillingly prescient.

It’s visually stunning

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In Gilead, colours are hugely symbolic, and the series plays them to great effect – the red of the handmaids’ robes as they swarm around a convicted criminal; the white of their bonnets, forcing them to always look downward; and the blue of eyes and the wives’ dresses.

And the cast? Stellar

The Handmaid's Tale Premiere - Los Angeles SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss is sure to get a few award nods for her turn as Offred, the show’s anchor. But the supporting cast is no slouch either.

Orange Is The New Black fans will be delighted to see Samira Wiley (Poussey) pop up as a close friend of Offred’s, and Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski is creepy as the Commander’s wife.

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Alexis Bledel (AKA Rory Gilmore) has been hailed the show’s ‘secret weapon’ for her performance as Ofglen, a handmaid with a rebellious streak. Good to have you back, Rory.

But beware: It is dark

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If you haven’t already guessed, this is probably the opposite of cosy weekend TV, but it’s essential viewing. The Handmaid’s Tale begins at 9pm this Sunday on Channel 4.

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