(1939 - Present), Canadian

Margaret Atwood: Film and Television

Margaret Atwood is known today for her groundbreaking, feminist, and environmentally conscious novels that often present a vision of the future that is far from appealing. Her works, including Atwood’s poetry, tap into themes that readers from a variety of backgrounds can appreciate. She has written about oppression, pregnancy and abortion, family trauma, murder, and a great deal more. It is due to the dramatic and engaging nature of her writing that several of her books, as well as short stories, and non-fiction works, have been picked up and created into television series and movies. It is very likely over the coming years that other adaptions will be announced and released as Margaret Atwood’s popularity is seemingly only growing. 

Margaret Atwood: Film and Television

The Handmaid’s Tale Television Show and Film 

Without a doubt, The Handmaid’s Tale is Margaret Atwood’s best-known novel. It is set in the near future in the totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. The residents of Gilead are separated into groups with specific titles. There are the Handmaids, sexual slaves forced to have the children of wealthy, elite couples, the Marthas, house servants, the Aunts, teachers responsible for indoctrinating the Handmaids, Wives, and the top of the social hierarchy there are the Commanders, the men who have all the power in the society. 

The novel experiences a resurgence in popularity after the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the United States. It was picked up by Hulu and MGM Television as a mini-series to stream on the Hulu platform. The show was created by Bruce Miller and based around Margaret Atwood’s storyline. The plot diverges in several places from Atwood’s intentions, but the heart of the novel is there. 

Something quite important to note regarding the adaption is that the television series goes beyond the novel, detailing events after the story ends and elaborating on characters and events in a way that Margaret Atwood did not. The show stars Elizabeth Moss as Offred, or “June,” and Joseph Fiennes as “Fred” the Commander in whose home she is assigned. Other actors include Yvonne Strahovski as Selena Joy, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, and Ann Dowd. At this point, there are three seasons and a total of 36 episodes. Margaret Atwood is a consulting producer on the series as well. 

This widely popular television series is not the first time that the novel has been adapted for the screen. In 1990, a film by the same name was created, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and starring Natasha Richardson as Offred and Robert Duvall as The Commander. The screenplay was written by Harold Pinter, and the film was produced in the United States and West Germany. It was released around the same time, early 1990, in both countries. Unfortunately, the film did not do too well, receiving an average of 4.79/10 on the rating website Rotten Tomatoes. 

Alias Grace Mini Series

Alias Grace is another of Margaret Atwood’s more popular novels. It tells the story of Grace Marks, a young woman who is convicted, along with her fellow-servant, for the murders of their employers. She is sentenced to life in prison, where she meets Dr. Simon Jordon, a psychologist sent to evaluate her. Grace has no memory o the murders, and throughout the novel, the reader is torn between believing that she’s innocent and knowing that she must be guilty. 

The novel, which was published in 1996, was recently made into a television mini-series that premiered on CBC in September of 2017. The series is made up of six episodes that follow, mostly, the plot of the novel. The series was added to Netflix in November of the same year, exposing a wider audience to the story. Sarah Gadon stars as Grace Marks while other actors include Edward Holcroft, who played Dr. Jordon, Rebecca Liddiard, and Zachary Levi. 

The novel is considered to be historical fiction as Atwood chose to fill in gaps in the historical narrative, creating for readers a vision of the events and personalities surrounding the deaths of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. 

Surfacing Film

Surfacing is a beautiful short novel that Margaret Atwood published in 1972. It speaks on wide-ranging topics from pregnancy and abortion to the Canadian national identity. More specifically, the novel tells the story of a young woman who returns to her hometown in Canada to search for her missing father. She is accompanied by her partner, Joe, and their friends Anna and David. She deals with memories of her past while trying to figure out what happened to her father. She’s eventually driven to madness. 

The novel, with its non-traditional storyline, was adapted into a film in 1981 by director Claude Jutra, producer Beryl Fox, and writer Bernard Gordon. It starred Kathleen Beller, R.H. Thomson, Joseph Bottoms, and Michael Ironside. Unfortunately, the film was not at all successful. The film was criticized for several reasons, including for their casting choices. 

The Atwood Stories Television Series

This lesser-known television series as based on six short stories by Margaret Atwood. It aired in February and March of 2003. The six episodes were titled “Polarities,” “Betty,” “The Man from Mars,” “Death by Landscape,” “Isis in Darkness,” and “The Sunrise.” They ranged in content from family breakdowns to the stories of artists and writers. Atwood is almost as well-known for her short stories as she is for her novels. She has written ten short story collections thus far over her lifetime. Some of them include Bluebeard’s Egg, Good Bones, Moral Disorder, and Stone Mattress. 

Payback Documentary

Payback is a different kind of adaption. It is based on Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. This non-fiction book was written in 2008 for Massey Lectures. The book is divided into five one-hour lectures that were given in different Canadian cities. The adapted documentary investigates concepts of debt around the world. Numerous well-known scholars contributed to the commentary included Raj Patel, William E. Rees, and Karen Armstrong. The film was produced for the National Film Board of Canada and premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. 

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Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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