The Underground Railroad review: A slave story with a twist

The Underground Railroad is a fictional take on a possible alternate reality of the antebellum South. In reality, there was a network of people trying to help in the abolition of slavery that prepared secret routes and arranged safe houses which helped enslaved African-Americans to escape to freedom. However, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the 10-episodic series by Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins, set in the 1800s in the US state of Georgia, shows an actual railroad. Apart from that aberration, you would hardly find anything to complain about in The Underground Railroad.

The web show revolves around Cora (Thuso Mbedu) who joins Caesar (Aaron Pierce) to ride this Underground Railroad to achieve freedom from slavery. Will they be able to get their freedom?

What fantastic storytelling by Barry Jenkins! You need to give the man credit for constantly trying to bring forth stories that are so innately embedded in the African-American society, and also make sure that they’re so well made that you’re compelled to stand up and take notice. He did it with Moonlight (2016) and he has done it again with The Underground Railroad. The story is more of how the characters get re-humanised to society rather than showing how they’re dehumanised, which is what usually is shown in other films in this genre. That’s a tight rope of demarcation and it is tough to achieve this balance. Jenkins has managed to achieve that to perfection.

Thuso Mbedu, Chase W Dillon, Aaron Pierre, and Joel Edgerton have all come up with really layered performances. Mbedu is Cora, the pivot of the entire plot, and she makes sure that she doesn’t deliver any inadequacies anywhere. Her performance as the young girl trying to evade slavery and go to a world where there’s dignity for everyone is one of the best in this genre. She should be up for some Best Actress awards nominations for this one.

One of the drawbacks of this series is the editing—the episodes could have been crisper. Also, The Underground Railroad is an emotional journey and demands your attention in every frame. One feels that Amazon Prime should have released this one episode per week, which would give audiences ample time to feel their entire range of emotions represented in the show.

The Underground Railroad deals with a painful and expansive subject but remains an imperfect take on the situations. However, the emotional highs and lows that you get after watching this show have rarely been evoked by any other series in this genre before. I am going with 4 stars.

Title: The Underground Railroad (Season 1)

Cast: Thuso Mbedu, Joel Edgerton, Chase Dillon and Aaron Pierre

Director: Barry Jenkins

Platform: Amazon Prime Video

Rating: 4

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