It was announced this week that The Handmaid’s Tale won a well-deserved clutch of awards at the Emmys – I think I may have staged a one-woman protest if it hadn’t.
Based on Margaret Atwood’s superb 1985 dystopian novel, the series, which aired on Channel 4 over the summer, picked up accolades for direction, production design, writing and acting – lead actress Elizabeth Moss, supporting actress Ann Dowd and guest actress Alexis Bledel all triumphed. It also won overall outstanding drama series.
Quite apart from its chilling contemporary resonance – dystopia is our new reality – it was just so beautiful to look at. The cinematography – those washed out colours, the claustrophobic retro interiors, the extreme close-ups on Elizabeth Moss’s magnificently emotive face – was as impressive as any on the big screen recently. (And, yes, it also received an Emmy for best cinematography).
It’s not often that I feel bereft after a TV series finishes, but it left a big hole. Maybe it was the fact that the story had so much reach – it spoke to the dangers of totalitarianism and intolerance in the past, present, and the (frankly quite scary-looking) future. There was a great deal to learn from the story; like so much of Atwood’s work it contained a quiet wisdom.
The power of such stories was discussed by another wise woman – children and Young Adult author Meg Rosoff – in an article for the Guardian last week. She berated the fact that the gradual side-lining of creative subjects in our schools is colossally undermining the value of arts and culture in modern society. She referred to the famous quote from Albert Einstein –“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales” – and urged the government to rethink their ‘fact-based education’ policy. It’s almost as if imagination is now considered to be dangerous in some way. What is dangerous is a lack of imagination. It’s been reported that Donald Trump’s reponse to questions about his favourite novels is usually along the lines of he ‘doesn’t have time to read’. Enough said.
Where else but in stories do we discover how it feels to be someone else? And thereby learn how to empathise. Empathy is in pretty short supply these days, we need to be doing as much as we can to encourage it.
I am not an orphan and have never been a refugee, faced discrimination due to the colour of my skin, or lived in a war zone, but through reading stories I can begin to understand what that might feel like.