'Handmaid's Tale' Book Sequel Nabbed by Hulu, MGM

Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale is coming to the screen.

MGM and Hulu announced Wednesday that they will develop The Testaments, the sequel to Atwood's best-selling 1985 dystopian novel. The studio and the streaming service — the latter is already home to The Handmaid's Tale — are currently in discussions with showrunner Bruce Miller about how the The Testaments can become "an important extension" to his Emmy-winning drama starring Elisabeth Moss.

The Testaments, which publishes Sept. 10, picks up more than 15 years after the ambiguous ending of the original Handmaid’s Tale novel. The series, which recently wrapped its third season, has moved its story beyond the source material that drove the first season. 

Hulu renewed the flagship series toward the end of the third season, which continued to expand the world of Atwood's novel. The season began in the immediate aftermath of June's (Moss) decision to remain in Gilead after giving her infant daughter to Emily (Alexis Bledel) to take to freedom in Canada. The third season ended with a controversial cliffhanger set to transform the series, an ending that Miller described in detail to The Hollywood Reporter as a "a huge, huge change." A return date for season four hasn't been set. 

Atwood revealed details about the project as part of a Time magazine cover story that published Wednesday. Instead of being told from the perspective of Offred, The Testaments will be narrated by three other women connected to Gilead: a young woman raised in the oppressive society; a Canadian teen who learns she was actually born there; and Aunt Lydia, the villain of both the novel and the series, who is played by Ann Dowd. 

"They can’t keep Offred in Gilead for many more seasons, or a certain amount of wheel spinning will be going on," Atwood, who started writing the sequel in 2016, told the magazine. "They have to move her along — and I’ve given them lots of ways of how that would happen."

Speaking with THR before the season three premiere, Miller weighed in on how Atwood's new novel might eventually impact the events of the series. Asked if he believed The Testaments would directly impact his version of events, the series creator offered candidly: "I imagine it will." (Atwood is a consulting producer on the series.)

Adding, "I think Margaret feels we have been good stewards of her characters and have brought them along in a way that makes sense to her. I don't know how much she's going to follow our lead [in The Testaments]. Certainly, we are living in Margaret's world. In the end, this show, my show, is built to be a companion piece to both of those books, to sit on the shelf with them, where hopefully you can read the books and then you can watch something that illuminates them and gives some visuals, and explore some stuff more deeply. I look at the show as a companion piece to a piece of classic literature, as opposed to something that lives independently of Margaret's work."

While the first season was universally praised, the second and third seasons have been less well-received by critics. The series has won 11 Emmys for its first two seasons, including for outstanding drama series in 2017. The third season was ineligible for this year's Emmys, but still earned 11 nods in individual categories due to the Television Academy's "hanging episodes" rule.

“Margaret Atwood is one of the visionary storytellers of her generation. From her award-winning poetry, short-stories and novels, Margaret has continually pushed boundaries and broken barriers to bring innovative stories to life,” says Craig Erwich, senior vp originals at Hulu, in a statement.

Steve Stark, president of television production at MGM, adds: “Margaret Atwood is a literary icon who continues to delight and challenge readers through her provocative and compelling prose. She has been an incredible creative partner and resource to MGM throughout the production of Handmaid’s and we look forward to working with her on the story’s exciting next chapter.”

The move marks the third collaboration between Atwood and MGM Television. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, the studio acquired the rights to Atwood’s 2015 novel The Heart Goes Last, which follows a young couple hit by job loss and bankruptcy during a nationwide economic collapse. 

Josh Wigler contributed to this story.