In this dystopian fable, a librarian wife and mother becomes the childbearing pawn of a Christian theocracy. In the near future, as war rages across the fictional North American Republic of Gilead and pollution has rendered 99 percent of the female population sterile, Kate (Natasha Richardson) sees her husband killed and her daughter kidnapped while trying to escape across the border. Kate herself is transformed into a handmaid -- a surrogate mother for one of the privileged but barren couples who run the country's fundamentalist regime. Although she resists being indoctrinated into the bizarre cult of the handmaids, which mixes Old Testament orthodoxy and misogynist cant with 12-step gospel and ritualized violence, Kate soon finds herself ensconced at the home of the Commander (Robert Duvall) and his frosty wife, Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway). Forced to lie between Serena Joy's legs and be penetrated impersonally each month by the Commander, Kate longs for her vanished earlier life; she soon learns that since many of the nation's powerful men are as sterile as their wives, she may have to risk the punishment for fornication -- death by hanging -- in order to sleep with another man who can provide her with the pregnancy that has become her sole raison d'être. When that other man turns out to be Nick (Aidan Quinn), the Commander's handsome, sympathetic driver, Kate grows attached to him -- and eventually pregnant with his child. Only the mysterious rebel affiliations of her fellow handmaid, Ofglen (Blanche Baker), seem to offer any chance of giving her unborn child a life of freedom -- or finding the daughter she already lost. Loosely adapted by Harold Pinter from the novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale also features Elizabeth McGovern in a small but pivotal role as Moira, a "gender traitor" who befriends Kate at the handmaids' reprogramming center.
by Brian J. Dillard synopsis