MARGARET Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale was a powerful, bleak look at the future - a sort of 1984 for women. The author created a future world in which the number of fertile women in the US has plummeted, and young potential mothers are assigned to become surrogate childbearers for the country's officials. Natasha Richardson (Gothic ) takes the title role in the film (Pearl 9.30pm, Original Running Time 109 mins), playing the woman with the dubious honour of being chosen to give birth on behalf of the state. Robert Duvall is the ageing military man to whom she's assigned, and Faye Dunaway his jealous wife. The story would seem perfect for transfer to film, but Harold Pinter's surprisingly plodding script and some careless direction from Volker Schlondorff (Tin Drum ) make the end product a disappointingly bland affair. Worth a look though for good performances from Richardson and Duvall. OVER on World, the powers that be have whipped off the passable Farewell to the King and replaced it at the last minute with the ludicrous Assassination (9.30pm, ORT 88 mins). Still, ours is not to reason why, ours is but to watch and cry. Here, the late Jill Ireland plays the US president's wife, who's been the target of several assassination attempts. Feisty and headstrong, this woman bites her thumb at danger, and is less than pleased when veteran secret service agent Charles Bronson isappointed to step up security around her. They hate each other at first, but - stop me if you've heard this before - then the flames of lurve begin to burn. Coincidentally, so does just about everything else as the would-be assassins have a fine time blowing up everything in sight in their frustrated attempts to get the first lady. She, by the way, is referred to as One Mama. 'Nuf said. THE third collection of thoughts and articles by Deng Xiaoping went on sale in China this week. Despite Deng's avowed dislike of personality cults, the publication of this, and his daughter's autobiography, bear the hallmarks of a political campaign basedon his policies. Media Watch (World 7.30pm) reviews Deng's biography and compares notes with the one written by Sir Richard Evans, Britain's former ambassador to China. BARRY Norman views Mike Leigh's Naked and The Real McCoy, which stars Val Kilmer (The Doors ) and Kim Basinger (Too Hot to Handle ) for Film '93 (BBC 6.35pm). There's also a preview of the London Film Festival which will be screening prestigious films like The Remains of the Day, (reuniting Howard's End stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson), Robert Altman's prize-winning Short Cuts (starring just about everyone in Tinsel Town) and Robert de Niro's directorial debut A Bronx Tale. IF you're looking for a late night laugh, you could do worse than tune in to Deep Space (Pearl 12.55pm, ORT 90 mins), a sci-fi B-movie that's a classic of its kind. The title has nothing to do with the plot, which concerns an Alien-like creature running riot in often hilarious fashion. Charles Napier is the cop on its trail, and Ann Turkel co-stars. GOOD news for followers of the wonderful and wacky series Picket Fences, which was rudely snatched from our screens half-way through its season last month. From Monday, it's back - still at a late time unfortunately - but at least we get to see the final seven episodes from that first series.