When author Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent was published, readers praised the book for giving a voice to women who had been all but ignored in ancient and sacred texts. The bestseller has become a book club favorite because of its cross-generational appeal and frank exploration of the lives of women — especially concerning ancient fertility and birthing rituals. Now Lifetime gives history’s forgotten women a face in the four-hour, two-night miniseries The Red Tent by re-envisioning the lives of biblical women whose actual histories have been lost to the sands of time.
In The Red Tent, the bond of womanhood reaches across generations and miles and elevates women to equals with the men in their lives. Lifetime’s presentation of those ideas, which premieres Sunday and continues Monday, is an eye-opening look into Diamant’s vision of biblical life.
The story follows Dinah, the only daughter among Jacob’s 12 sons, who is given only a fleeting mention in the Genesis stories when she is taken and raped by a powerful prince. “It was Dinah’s silence that called to me,” explains Diamant. “She does not say a single word about what happened to her with the prince in Shechem. It’s her brothers who claim that she was violated. She says nothing at all, so we can’t know her side of that story. And then, she disappears. Dinah is never mentioned again.” In The Red Tent, Diamant turns Dinah from a voiceless victim into a woman with wants and needs. Diamant’s hand is a feminine touch on a history that is often ignorant of the stories of women, because it was recorded by the hands of men.
Although Dinah’s story is millennia old, it feels both accessible and modern. Actress Rebecca Ferguson was exhilarated by the role: “I love history and being a part of creating fictional stories derived from documented events,” she says. “Traveling into this biblical world was exciting and new.”
The red tent was originally intended as a realm of sequester for the unclean acts of giving birth, recovering from illness and menstruating, but for the women of the film, it also becomes a secret refuge from their daily lives and a space of community, sharing, music, love and learning. “The Red Tent honors the importance of women’s relationships within families and also within friendships,” says Diamant. “It affirms the value of women’s work and wisdom as well as women’s physical strength and fortitude.”
Ferguson is dynamic and relatable as Dinah and the cast surrounding her is compelling. Two of her four mothers (polygamy was common in ancient times) are portrayed by Morena Baccarin and Minnie Driver. Not surprisingly, Ferguson cherishes the scenes that the women shot together in the film’s red tent. “It was a very creative space,” she says. “They are all such beautiful women and we had a lot of fun.” Baccarin is stunning and tender as Rachel, Jacob’s most beloved wife. Driver is Jacob’s pragmatic first wife Leah and Dinah’s birth mother. The miniseries presents Leah as much more gentle and loving than the book, undoubtedly because of Driver’s natural grace. Debra Winger makes a brief but powerful appearance as biblical matriarch Rebecca, and Ferguson loved their scenes together, revealing: “It’s interesting the effect her years of knowledge and experience has on others. Paradoxically it can be intimidating and immensely rewarding.”
As the only daughter to Leah and Jacob (and Jacob’s other wives, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah), Dinah receives the full attention of the strong and gifted women around her. In the red tent, she learns about midwifery and the worship of female goddesses by the women of her tribe. Because she is raised by strong women, Dinah is bold, outspoken and headstrong — a contrast to the patriarchal demands of her father and brothers and the mores of ancient women.
The Red Tent > Lifetime > Dec. 7-8