How Margaret Atwood feels about having no control over The Handmaid’s Tale TV series

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Moya Crockett
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The author has no say in how the TV adaptation of her novel will play out – but she’s OK with that. 

Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale will know that the first series of the hit TV show stuck reasonably closely to the plot of the Margaret Atwood novel on which it’s based. But the second series – currently airing on Channel 4 – draws very little from Atwood’s source material, veering off instead into a world of its own creation.

At the Hay literary festival in Wales, Atwood admitted that she has no control over the TV adaptation of her bestselling book. However, she emphasised that she isn’t upset about it.

“I think I would have to be awfully stupid to resent it because things could have been so much worse,” she said, according to The Guardian. “They have done a tippety-top job… the acting is great, they’ve stuck to the central set of premises.”

Atwood also advised fans not to worry about The Handmaid’s Tale series going in a different direction from her novel, adding that it was a natural element of TV adaptation.

“It’s a television series,” she said. “If you’re going to have a series you can’t kill off the central character and you also can’t have the central character escape to safety in episode one of season two. It’s not going to happen.”

A scene from The Handmaid’s Tale TV series 

Atwood said that she couldn’t have any control over the series even if she’d wanted to, because the rights had been bought almost 30 years ago by MGM, the distributors of the 1989 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. MGM later sold those rights to Hulu, the streaming service that originally aired the TV series in the US.

“None of this was in any way under my control,” she said. “Even if I had thrown a tantrum and said you can’t do this, that would have had no legal standing.”

Seven out of 10 of the show’s writing team were women, Atwood said, and the series’ creator had assured her of his commitment to employing women. When they first met, she said he introduced himself by saying: “Hi, I’m Bruce Miller and I’m the show-runner and I have got one penis too many. But I’ve hired a lot of women.

“And then he said, ‘I thought they would all agree on everything!”

Despite the pessimistic tone of many of her dystopian novels, Atwood said she felt hopeful about some things, such as the result of the abortion referendum in Ireland and the resistance to Donald Trump in the US.

The Trump presidency, she said, “has galvanised a lot of people. Had those people voted in the last election the current incumbent would not have won.”

For more on the making of The Handmaid’s Tale, click here.

Images: Getty Images / Channel 4