Will June find safety in The Handmaid’s Tale?

Sunday: The Handmaid’s Tale; (Channel 4, 9pm)
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Sunday evenings were once a time for cosy TV, where gentle dramas flourished as viewers relaxed before being forced to face the horrors of work on Monday morning.

That can still be the case. BBC One recently completed the 10th series of Call the Midwife, although the channel’s 9pm slot has been given up to more hard-hitting fare lately, including Line of Duty and Jimmy McGovern’s rather excellent Time, which completes its run at the same time as The Handmaid’s Tale begins its fourth season over on Channel 4.

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The latter is certainly far from cosy; it’s one of the hardest-hitting, most difficult to watch programmes of recent years. The first run brilliantly brought Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed dystopian novel to life; subsequent series have come from the imagination of the screenwriters, but completely fit in with Atwood’s chilling vision of a world in which a totalitarian state forces fertile women into child-bearing slavery. A fifth season has already been commissioned.

June finds refuge on a farmJune finds refuge on a farm
June finds refuge on a farm

Thankfully, the project isn’t bleak and desperate to work on, according to the show’s star, Elisabeth Moss.

“The set is really fun!” she laughs. “It’s not as serious as anyone would possibly think it is. I think we temper hard-to-watch aspects of the show so many times with other things. It’s so romantic and beautiful and elegant and sad, all at the same time.

“As long as we are truthful and telling the story, then we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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Moss has never shied away from difficult roles and is perhaps best known for playing characters who could be regarded as feminist icons – Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, Detective Robin Griffin in Top of the Lake, and now June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale.

“I always try to choose the characters I play based on what’s the best material,” she explains. “The character I play is obviously an important part, but it’s almost secondary to the actual script itself. When you get both, a really good character and a really good script, that’s amazing.

“For me it’s all about what is the best material and the best script and I don’t really care if it’s a TV show or a play or a movie or big or small, I just go for what’s best.”

She adds: “I think I’m attracted to strong, complicated characters. And I think that unfortunately we’ve been living in a man’s world for so long, so our challenges are often overcoming the patriarchy. And that’s a lot of our drama sometimes, unfortunately, so that is going be a main thrust of the story.”

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The opening episode picks up where the previous series left off. June is injured, but she and the other runaway women find refuge on a farm owned by Commander Keyes; his 14-year-old bride Esther keeps him sedated, enabling her to help those making a break for freedom.

As June slowly rebuilds her strength, she listens to Esther’s chilling stories, which detail her experiences at the hands of her brutal husband and his associates – prompting June to promise they will take their revenge.

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