Laura looks at the essential viewing for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale ahead of season two of the award-winning show!
I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy nut since I could read and one of my favourite genres to watch is the protagonist-against-the-world in a dystopian future. Anything that lets you wonder “what would I do under these circumstances and wait a minute, isn’t this eerily like how things already are” is on my watch list.
Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and the recent television adaptation of it provides just that scenario, exploring the limits of resistance within an oppressive religious society. With that in mind– if you can’t wait till series two of The Handmaid’s Tale here are some sci-fi picks that deal with similar issues of bodily autonomy, gender, sex and freaky societal set-ups!
Orphan Black (2013-2017)
Orphan Black is a Canadian sci-fi series in which Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) takes on the identity of her apparent doppelgänger after she witnesses the woman commit suicide at a train station. She soon discovers there is more to her (and of her) than she could have imagined. Maslany is so good in the multiple roles she plays on Orphan Black I still have to remind myself it is one actress playing all of them. There are five seasons of Orphan Black which makes it perfect binge fodder.
Cold Lazarus (1996)
Cold Lazarus was written by Dennis Potter and is a four-part sequel to the tele-drama Karaoke. In the 24th century almost all experiences are virtual and an entertainment mogul has plans to plunder long dead writer Daniel Feeld’s memories for tv ratings. Cold Lazarus is available in its entirety on youtube, so if you like your dystopias 90s style check it out!
Unlike another of Joss Whedon’s much-loved television series’ Dollhouse actually made it to two seasons– which was long enough to explore some very interesting questions around consent and fantasy among other things.
In Dollhouse people are able to sign over their bodies to a company for a stipulated period of time during which they can hired as ‘dolls’ by their clients– programmed which specific memories and personalities for each encounter. Except that no tech is foolproof and when things get glitchy in brains things get interesting.
Humans (2015- present)
Humans is a British programme in which robots (synths) are here and doing much of our dirty work. Unfortunately for the actual biological humans being synthetic doesn’t turn out to preclude sentience and the stronger, faster synths are tired of your crap. There are so far two seasons of Humans available, with a third being set to premiere this year.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
There is something strange happening in the town of Stepford… Men whose wives have been ‘dabbling’ in Women’s Lib can find a haven in Stepford where there Men’s Association is ensuring a return to traditional values in a nefarious way. The Stepford Wives has not lost any of its punch over the years (and despite an abortive remake). Satirical but also very emotional it I still find it horrifying (and horrifyingly relevant).
3% is a Brazillian thriller, set in a society where the majority of the people live in poverty but a small number (the titular 3%) live ‘offshore’ in a crimeless paradise without want. Young people can go through ‘the process’ at aged twenty to determine if they ‘deserve’ to join this elite.
It is a little bit Hunger Games, a little bit Elysium, but that doesn’t mean you know what is going to happen. The first season of 3% is currently available on Netflix, with a second series due out later this year.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel Never Let Me Go is set in a world a lot like ours, except that some people are clones, raised to have their organs harvested and extend the lives of the ‘real’ people they are cloned from. Like the book it is based on the film Never Let Me Go is a beautiful meditation on mortality and an interesting opening to conversations on ethics.
Children of Men (2006)
Also based on a novel (by P.D. James), Children of Men is set on a future earth where the population has become infertile. In this despairing world a former activist played by Clive Owen finds himself the protector of a miraculously pregnant young woman who he must help get to an offshore sanctuary (that hopefully exists).
Not quite as bleak as the book it is based on Children of Men is a beautiful film by Alfonso Cuarón, who also directed Y Tu Mamá También and more recently Gravity.
The Lobster (2015)
In this strange and very darkly comic film being in a couple is considered so fundamental to society that it is mandatory. People whose relationships fail are sent to a hotel where they must try to form a bond with another person or face being turned into another kind of animal.
Colin Farrell’s character has chosen The Lobster as his ‘second choice’ seeing as it lives to over a hundred and has blue blood like an aristocrat. He finds out that there is a little more to it than that though.
The Telling (2019)
Not yet available but included because I am so excited about– the film adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s beautiful book The Telling. Le Guin sadly died earlier this year– but she left behind vast worlds that are ripe for screen versions. Part of the Hainish cycle of books, The Telling involves a Terran observer who is sent to the world of Aka, where a corporatist government has outlawed all indigenous customs and beliefs. The film is being developed by writer/director Leena Pendharkar and will hopefully be out next year!
Do you have anything to add to the list? I’d love to hear what you have been watching!