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The cars of Gilead, and what is a picture car consultant

Elisabeth Moss in the Hulu TV Series “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

What cars should appear in the fictional country of Gilead, in the award-winning TV Series The Handmaid’s Tale set in a dystopian near future? This is the type of question that is asked of a picture car consultant. Most of the time, that question relates to the past: if the movie is set in, say, France in 1972, what should be the most frequent cars in the streets, and what licence plate numbers should they have to stick to the reality of the time? These elements are capital to ensure the credibility of your work. Some get it beautifully right, such as latest Quentin Tarantino flick Once upon a time in Hollywood, a stunning recreation of 1969 Los Angeles including a 1966 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (pictured below) among no less the 2000 cars of that time, much higher than the average for a film which is between 300 and 500 cars. Some get it awfully wrong – or don’t seem to care – such as this year’s Anna by French director Luc Besson whose opening scenes are set in 1980s Moscow but feature present-day traffic…

1966 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in “Once upon a time in Hollywood”.

We at BSCB also offer picture car consultancy services, building on my decade of experience in the Advertising industry and the depth of Historical Data we have at our disposal, most of it yet unpublished. A picture car consultant helps you select the appropriate and relevant cars depending on the era(s) and location(s) your TV show or movie is set in. We will give you a landscape of what the most popular cars in the country were at the time, as well as what licence plate numbers should be used to fit most closely to reality. Then it’s the job of a picture car coordinator to actually source these cars. Keep in mind no cars should appear “by chance” in a movie or TV Series. Please contact us here for an introduction if you are interested in this service.

A scene in Season 1 of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Back to Gilead. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the US has become Gilead, a totalitarian theocracy that enslaves fertile women and forbids all females from reading or driving, while seemingly aiming for a greener economy. What type of cars would be used by a brutal, nationalistic and religiously fanatic government that is located in the near future US? The decisions taken by The Handmaid’s Tale picture car consultants are in my view spot on. First with the nationality of the cars used in the series. Japanese and Korean cars have almost completely disappeared – we do see a couple of first generation Toyota Prius but always in the background, and all vehicles are either American or German, which was arguably one of the latest and most striking Western totalitarian governments. Cars in The Handmaid’s Tale follow three axes:

The Mercedes of Gilead: S-Class, G-Class and E-Class.

1. Mercedes for Governors

Gilead is led by Governors, one of which is Fred Waterford, one of the main characters in the series. The Waterfords’ and Gilead Governors’ car park seems exclusively composed of Mercedes: a few Mercedes S-Class including one briefly stolen by one of the handmaids in an attempted attack, a Mercedes G-Class in Season 1 driven by Nick Blaine – also a pivotal character in the series, then towards the end of Season 3, Fred Waterford and his wife Serena allow themselves an escapade in a Mercedes E-Class convertible.

Gilead Government Agency vehicles are all American.

2. US vehicles for Government Agencies

Painted in appropriately terrifying matte black but with their logos masked, Gilead military uses GMC Yukon XL extensively, but also other US commercial vehicles such as the Ford Transit, F-Series Heavy Truck, Dodge Sprinter and – the most obvious choice: military Hummers.

You can’t be a bad guy if you drive a Tesla Model X. Or can you?

3. Tesla Model X for “Good Guys”

Again keeping in mind nothing is fortuitous in the choice of cars in a TV Series or movie, without disclosing any plot detail there are still a handful of Gilead leaders unsure about their government’s rightfulness, that take ambiguous decisions. These “good” characters drive a Tesla Model X… In the context of the show, this is the most adequate combination of the opulence linked to a Governor level, the American nationality and the green elan of Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale is an excellent example of picture car consultancy gone right: the car choices are logical and stick closely to the themes of the scenario. But creating a near future or an alternate reality is arguably a lot easier than recreating past times and locations, which are a minefield for mistakes that can be glaring to some viewers. So make sure your own TV Series or movie follows in the right steps and contact us here so we can help you. I look forward to speaking and working with you.

(Note this post was not commissioned by Hulu or The Handmaid’s Tale. All observations are my own.)

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