Why isn’t The Handmaid’s Tale available to watch in the UK?

The adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel has been attracting rave reviews in the US, so why has nobody picked it up in the UK?

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UPDATE: The Handmaid’s Tale will be broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK. Read more here

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Riveting“. “Horrifyingly beautiful“. “Unflinching, vital and scary as hell”. It’s safe to say that The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, has gone down very well.

The series, starring Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, is available on streaming service Hulu in the United States, where the first three episodes have been available since Wednesday 26 April.

The bad news is, unlike Netflix or Amazon, Hulu isn’t available in the UK, which means that while viewers and critics rave about the show online, British viewers are in the dark.

Which, given the modern, multimedia-binge-fest that is 2017, seems pretty stupid.

Hulu is currently only available in the USA, although as a message on its customer Twitter feed says, that could be set to change.

However, even if Hulu isn’t available abroad, original Hulu shows have previously been broadcast on other channels or services in the UK.

Drama The Path and comedy Casual for example have both streamed on Amazon Prime in the UK, while FOX aired alternate history thriller 11.22.63 last year. All three were first shown on Hulu.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for MGM Television, the production company behind The Handmaid’s Tale, confirmed to RadioTimes.com that “the series will be available in the UK”, and that an announcement will be made soon However, they were unable to confirm which UK broadcaster would be showing the series.

Where could The Handmaid’s Tale air in the UK?

RadioTimes.com has reached out to numerous broadcasters in an attempt to track down details for a UK broadcast. Here is what we learned.

Amazon Prime

With a past history broadcasting Hulu shows in the UK, Amazon appeared the obvious home for The Handmaid’s Tale.

Broadcast reports that the streaming service has secured the rights to the dystopian drama, although when RadioTimes.com contacted Amazon Prime Video for confirmation they declined to comment.

A source had previously told RadioTimes.com, “Last we heard it was not coming to Amazon Prime, and there’s been no update since”.

Channel 4

The Handmaid’s Tale is produced by MGM Television, the same company who makes crime series Fargo.

Fargo is broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, so the partnership is there, and the timing fits: like The Good Wife and Fargo, any UK broadcast of The Handmaid’s Tale would have to now take place weeks after the US air date.

We’ve asked Channel 4 for comment, and will update as soon as we hear.

Sky

An unlikely candidate: Sky has big budget deals with US broadcaster HBO and Showtime, and already has an established line-up of big US series from Game of Thrones to the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks. Both those shows incidentally also air at the same time in the US and UK in an effort to combat watching via illegal downloads. A spokesperson for Sky says there are “no plans” to broadcast the series.

Netflix

Again, an unlikely partner for Hulu – the streaming services are already rivals in the US, and as far as we are aware no Hulu original series has been made available on Netflix.

ITV

ITV Encore’s drama Harlots airs on Hulu in the US. It could make for a great swap if ITV were to snatch the rights to The Handmaid’s Tale, even if its tale of ultra-conservative dystopian future isn’t necessarily an obvious fit for the broadcaster.

BBC

The BBC rarely buys in American dramas, preferring instead to produce its own series. However, last year’s hit American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson was an exception, as was slave drama Roots on BBC4, which aired almost a year after the US broadcast.

An adaptation of a celebrated novel is also just the kind of material that could just convince the BBC to swoop for The Handmaid’s Tale, but the chances are slim.

Somewhere else?

Just because there isn’t a UK air date yet doesn’t mean British viewers should give up hope – although given the slow reaction from UK broadcasters, by the time a deal is struck much of the audience might have already found other ways of watching. There are ways to watch Hulu in the UK, not to mention piracy websites…

However, in Canada, author Margaret Atwood’s home country, broadcast details were only confirmed right at the end of March – the series will air weekly on Bravo starting from 30 April, with the whole drama available to watch on Canadian streaming service CraveTV once the series finale has aired.

Author Atwood herself said at the end of March that news of a UK broadcaster would be “coming soon, I trust”. RadioTimes.com has contacted her representative to try find out more. 

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As soon as we have more news or a confirmation of a UK air date, we’ll let you know.