Handmaids Tale Movie Trivia

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While working on the film, Robert Duvall became so fascinated with evangelism that it inspired him to write The Apostle (1997).

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Canadian reporter Sheldon Teitelbaum once wrote of this film’s development: “During the next two and a half years, Wilson would take the script to every studio in Hollywood, encountering a wall of ignorance, hostility, and indifference.” Studio executives knocked the picture, saying that it was “a film for and about women, would be lucky if it made it to video.”

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The lead role of Kate/Offred was offered to Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver, the latter of whom had to drop out when she got pregnant.

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The repressive theocratic regime that has taken over the U.S. in this movie (and its source novel) is called “The Republic of Gilead”. Gilead is a place (or maybe several places) mentioned repeatedly in the Bible (first in Genesis 31:23), as a geographic location and the source of a figurative or literal “balm” (curative or healing substance). Based on those constant Bible references, there is a well-known spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead”, that is in the hymnals of many Christian denominations, and in the book, Offred remembers the hymn, and makes a joke to herself about it (“There is a bomb in Gilead”).

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Academic Reingard M. Nishick has written that casting of the lead central female role was difficult, until Natasha Richardson was cast after Sigourney Weaver withdrew from the film due to pregnancy. Nishick claims that “Director Volker Schlöndorff is reported to have approached almost every American actress to take over the part of Offred, yet every one of them declined.” No explanation has been given as to why.

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Faye Dunaway originally quit the role of Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, believing her character to be too weak. A phone call from the source book’s author, Margaret Atwood, changed her mind.

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Several Christian hymns sung by the Handmaids were performed by The Meredith College Chorale. The lyrics were heavily altered to reflect the new regime’s warped, fundamentalist theology. Some examples:

“Old Hundredth” “O God, from whom all blessings flow. Hear us, Your daughters, here below. Make us the vessels of the seed Of those who come to us in need.

Remove our anger, cleanse our will, And leave us empty to be filled. Make us worthy to be filled.”

“Shall We Gather at the River?” “As we wander by the river. Cursed by sterility Thanks, we give now, to the Giver. Bless us with fertility. Bless us, bless us, bless us, Bless us with fertility.”

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In the original novel by Margaret Atwood, the main character is known only by her patronymic, “Offred” (or “of Fred,” since she “belongs” to a Commander named Fred). Her real name is never revealed, though many readers believe it may be June, based on various subtle hints in the text (in a 2017 article for the “New York Times Book Review”, Atwood says about the interpretation that Offred’s real name was June, “that was not my original thought, but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish”.) However, the filmmakers chose Kate as her pre-Gileadean name, and state it clearly.

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In the book, the story takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, predominantly in Harvard Square, on the Harvard campus, and in the general area. Harvard Square is a very busy place, however, and it would have been almost impossible to clear the Square for the scenes in question. In addition, Harvard University has a “no filming” policy that prohibits any filming from taking place on their campus. North Carolina substituted.

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The movie rights to the film’s source novel were sold by its author Margaret Atwood to producer Daniel Wilson in 1986.

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There are several Durham landmarks in North Carolina featured in the film. They include: Duke University Chapel, where the Salvaging/Particicution was filmed; the streets near Brightleaf Square and West Village, where roadblocks and checkpoints were built; The American Tobacco Campus (ATC), where the Handmaids first meet Aunt Lydia; and the Lucky Strike Chimney in the background of the ATC.

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The address of Commander Fred’s (Robert Duvall)’s house is “1810”. The full address of the location is 1810 Cedar Street, Durham, North Carolina. It is more famously known as the Michael Peterson murder house. Faye Dunaway and Natasha Richardson descend the house’s staircase at 54:33 in the film.

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This is Bill Owen‘s final film before his death on July 12, 1999 at the age of 85.

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The name “Particicution” is a play on the name “Participaction”, a government corporation founded by Pierre Trudeau in 1972 in an attempt to get Canadians into fitness. The corporation lasted until 2000 in Margaret Atwood‘s homeland of Canada.

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Volker Schlöndorff replaced Karel Reisz as director.

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Jamie Portman has cited Natasha Richardson‘s retrospective viewpoint on the screenplay by Harold Pinter for the CanWest News Service by stating, “Richardson recognized early on, the difficulties in making a film out of a book which was ‘so much a one-woman interior monologue’ and with the challenge of playing a woman unable to convey her feelings to the world about her, but who must make them evident to the audience watching the movie. She thought the passages of voice-over narration in the original screenplay would solve the problem, but then Pinter changed his mind, and Richardson felt she had been cast adrift. ‘Harold Pinter has something specific against voice-overs’, she said angrily nineteen years ago, ‘speaking as a member of an audience, I’ve seen voice-over and narration work very well in films a number of times, and I think it would have been helpful had it been there for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. After all, it’s her story. In the end, Volker Schlöndorff sided with Richardson.” Wikipedia states: “Portman does not acknowledge Pinter’s already-quoted account that he gave both Schlondorff and source novelist Margaret Atwood ‘carte blanche’ to make whatever changes they wanted to his script, because he was too ‘exhausted’ from the experience to work further on it. In 1990, when she reportedly made her comments quoted by Portman, Richardson herself may not have known that.”

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Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio turned down the role of Moira.

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The opening prologue states: “Once upon a time in the recent future, a country went wrong. The country was called The Republic of Gilead”. This wordage is also quoted in the movie’s main trailer.

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Although costume designer Colleen Atwood and Margaret Atwood shared the same last name, they are not related.

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Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall previously appeared in Network (1976).

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Final film of Bill Owen.

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The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall; and one Oscar nominee: Elizabeth McGovern.

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