CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Anyone fancy a shot of Gilead gin? Wham, bam, no thank you ma’am!
The Handmaid’s Tale
Kate: Our Queen In Waiting
No show uses classic pop better than The Handmaid’s Tale (C4). But as killer Bunny Girls enticed lecherous men to swig poisoned gin, to a soundtrack of David Bowie’s Suffragette City, the dystopian thriller surpassed itself.
Now in its fourth season, this fantasy — set in a patriarchial America renamed Gilead, where the only fertile women are sex slaves — has always loved to showcase epic songs and imbue them with dark meaning.
The very first episode landed a knockout punch by closing with Lesley Gore’s 1963 feminist rallying cry, You Don’t Own Me.
There’s a danger that The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Elisabeth Moss (pictured), will taper off into a series of bog-standard cliffhangers
Hits sung by Kate Bush, Debbie Harry and Grace Slick have made an equally unforgettable impact. As the series returned last week, the commentary hidden in the music became even more twisted.
Rebel handmaid June (Elisabeth Moss) gave 15-year-old Esther (Mckenna Grace) a slaughterman’s knife and urged the girl to butcher the brute who raped her.
When Esther returned, soaked in blood, June comforted her — to the sound of Carole King and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
If little Esther with her psychotic temper and demented elf’s scowl is a natural woman, I’d feel safer with synthetic, thank you.
But the plastic women in Gilead are just as dangerous. At an upmarket party resort, reminiscent of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion, the escort girls were draped in silver lamé as they passed around shots of firewater . . . laced with deadly nightshade by June and Esther.
‘Wooaaawwh . . . wham bam thank you ma’am!’ shrieked Bowie.
The sadistic glee in these song choices reflects how The Handmaid’s Tale has evolved. It began with an oppressive vision of male domination, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel.
Easy reading of the week:
Why is the ‘breaking news’ tickertape on BBC and Sky so small? It’s as though they don’t care if viewers can read it. At least the scrolling headlines on GB News (Freeview channel 236) are big enough to be legible.
But June is no longer a slave. She has become a resistance fighter, on the run and striking blows against the regime wherever she can.
She exhausted any hope of mercy from the government when she helped dozens of children to escape from Gilead to Canada. Now the story’s intensity has been diluted: it has become a conventional adventure of wartime resistance.
We’ve seen the plucky heroine battle an evil empire many times before, from Carve Her Name With Pride to the latest Star Wars blockbusters. There’s a danger that The Handmaid’s Tale will taper off into a series of bog-standard cliffhangers: will she be captured, will she escape, will her next daring plan succeed?
There is also the slight drawback that Canada appears, in this version at least, to be such a bland, insipid place that no one could possibly want to seek refuge there. It looks like a motorway service station, 2,000 miles across, under an inch of beige slush.
Still, Canada is where Meghan and Harry headed when they escaped the Evil UK Empire, so I suppose we must recognise it as an automatic haven of choice for oppressed people everywhere.
Kate: Our Queen In Waiting (C5) made only glancing reference to the flight of the Sussexes. This obsequious portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge mostly confined itself to comments such as, ‘She has not put a foot wrong’ and ‘This is a relatable form of royalty’.
One of the chuntering palace insiders did admit: ‘I’m not sure there was a natural connection between Meghan and Kate.’ This was British understatement taken beyond its limits — not an observation, merely a string of words with all meaning sucked out of them.
We also learned that Kate was ‘a reluctant clothes horse’, but that she now rivals Jackie Kennedy as a style icon. Much more tosh like this and I’m escaping to Canada myself.