Review: The return of The Handmaid's Tale offers hope of a little light amid the dark in Gilead

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Blessed day! The Handmaid’s Tale (Channel 4, Sun, 9pm) has returned after what seemed like an interminable gap between series, and once again we are plunged into the frighteningly plausible world of Gilead.

While we debate whether schoolchildren should be singing a ‘one nation’ song, and the argument over whether Covid restrictions represent a serious and permanent erosion of civil liberties rages back and forth, life in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian US comes down to a basic fight between survival and capitulation.

The opening episode of this fourth series picks up where we left off and – trying to avoid spoilers – seems to be a brief hiatus in the dread and despair which characterises this dark tale of Biblical repression.

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The previous three series have seen very little light in the dark for our heroine June – played with clench-jawed determination by Elizabeth Moss – and her fellow freedom fighters, but this episode allowed us a glimpse into a future where singing and dancing might again be allowed, where women could be free.

Elizabeth Moss stars as June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale. Picture: Jasper Savage/HuluElizabeth Moss stars as June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale. Picture: Jasper Savage/Hulu
Elizabeth Moss stars as June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale. Picture: Jasper Savage/Hulu

It’s only a scratchy record player in a barn, but as June’s pal Alma tells her: “This is as free as we’re going to get, maybe we should make the best of it.”

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But, as the cliché goes, it’s the hope that kills you, and by the end June is having to make – literally – life and death decisions.

It’s a wonderfully put-together series, with the handmaids’ red robes shot against pure white snow like bloodstains on sheets, but after so much misery, it would be nice to think June will at last find some happiness, under his eye or not.

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Philly DA (BBC4, Tues, 10pm) is a masterful fly-on-the-wall doc about a civil rights lawyer getting elected as the most powerful prosecutor in Philadelphia. It’s early days, but you dread it’ll all end in tears.

I’ve been watching Hannibal (Amazon Prime, streaming now) which is quite the most bizarre, weird, nightmarish show that must have appeared on US network TV. Great, if you have a strong stomach.

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