The Underground Railroad (miniseries)

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The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad Poster.png
GenreHistorical fiction
Created byBarry Jenkins
Based onThe Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Directed byBarry Jenkins
Starring
ComposerNicholas Britell
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes10
Production
Executive producers
CinematographyJames Laxton[1]
Running time20–77 minutes
Production companies
Release
Original networkAmazon Prime Video
Original releaseMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
External links
Website

The Underground Railroad is an American fantasy historical drama streaming television limited series created and directed by Barry Jenkins based on the novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead. The series premiered on Amazon Prime Video on May 14, 2021.

Premise[edit]

A fictional story of people attempting an escape from slavery in the southern United States in the 1800s utilising a key plot element employing the literary style of magic realism.[2] In reality, "The Underground Railroad" was a network of abolitionists, hidden routes, and safe houses that helped enslaved African-Americans escape to freedom in the early to mid-1800s. In the novel and the series, it is an actual railroad complete with engineers, conductors, tracks, and tunnels. Cora, a slave in Georgia, joins newcomer Caesar to ride the subterranean train to freedom.[3]

Cast[edit]

Main[edit]

Recurring[edit]

Episodes[edit]

No.TitleDirected by [3]Teleplay by [4]Original release date [5]
1"Chapter 1: Georgia"Barry JenkinsBarry JenkinsMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
After a captured runaway slave is publicly burned to death by his master Terrance Randall, two young plantation slaves Cora Randall and Caesar Gardner flee from slaveholding Georgia into freedom. The couple sets its hopes on the mysterious Underground Railroad. That organization consists of an unknown number of steam trains and a vast system of tunnels to transport runaways unseen to the non-slaveholding states of the US and finally to Canada. On their run, Cora strikes a young man in the head, who was with a group of slave catchers. From then on she is not only a wanted runaway but a fugitive from justice for attempted murder. Hence, Cora and Caesar are stubbornly pursued by slave catcher Arnold Ridgeway and his underage but early-grown-up aide, a black boy named Homer. Ridgeway boasts that no runaway has ever escaped him with the exception of Cora's mother Mabel, who had disappeared without a trace some ten years earlier.
2"Chapter 2: South Carolina"Barry JenkinsJacqueline Hoyt and Nathan C. ParkerMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
Taken by an underground train to Griffin, a (fictional) city in South Carolina, Cora and Caesar are treated well for the moment. Cora receives school lessons in reading and in etiquette while Caesar is offered a job as assistant to a white scholar. But after a while they discover the reality behind the friendly behavior. For some inexplicable reason, the town’s citizens benefact the negroes only in order to engage in controlling the black community through coerced sterilization and forced drug use. In the end, Caesar is cornered by Ridgeway and Cora has to flee on her own.
3"Chapter 3: North Carolina"Barry JenkinsAllison DavisMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
Cora's next travel stage is an unnamed village in the midst of the woods. The town’s people have formed a human potential cult that eagerly eliminates any sort of ethnic or intellectual variance. Thus any written material or image viewed as iniquitous is burnt, every black person is killed regardless of whether they are slave, runaway or freedman, and any person of Irish descent is seen as inferior. Cora hides in the attic of Mr. Martin, the local Underground Railroad station agent, sharing the room with underage Grace, another black runaway. When Ridgeway finds out, he saves Cora from lynching by arresting her, and he later murders Martin for protecting the railroad from Ridgeway. A furious mob drags Mrs. Martin away to unjustly execute her by hanging or immolation. The Martins' house is set on fire. The fate of Grace remains unknown.
4"Chapter 4: The Great Spirit"Barry JenkinsAdrienne RushMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
This episode reports on the youth of Arnold Ridgeway. Born in Tennessee, his father runs a farm and a forge. A forceful man of integrity, Ridgeway Sr., a pantheist, is guided by his belief in a "Great Spirit," his personal idol that he believes is equal to the universe, its physical matter, and the forces that govern it. Ridgeway Sr. employs only paid freedmen and detests slavery. A not-so-young Arnold is an unconfident half-orphan who shows no talent for his father's work as a blacksmith. Arnold is driven by his envy of his father's self-confident black workers. Thus, he persuades a young boy, Mack, to jump into a dead well which causes a permanent limp. For the first time, Arnold makes his own money by supporting a group of slave catchers hunting down a runaway black man. Arnold later disappoints his father by expressing his personal view that slaves who have freed themselves are people of worth while those who remain slaves are empty of any humanity. Unable to reconcile with his father, Arnold leaves home.
5"Chapter 5: Tennessee – Exodus"Barry JenkinsNathan C. ParkerMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
On their way back to Georgia, Arnold Ridgeway, Homer, Boseman (a slave catcher), Cora and her fellow sufferer Jasper cross former Cherokee land. The natives have already been deported on the Trail of Tears, and the surrounding lands and woods the group now travels through is a burnt-out wasteland useless to all. Ridgeway lies to Cora telling her that Lovey, a girl she escaped with, was hung from a gallows and did not die for two days. Cora later attempts to escape after Boseman loosened her chains in order to rape her but she is caught. That night, Ridgeway murders Boseman for the latter’s complaining, his treatment of Cora, and for reminding Ridgeway of he and his father’s estranged relationship. At a favorable moment Ridgeway reveals how he met Homer: he purchased him when Homer was a little child but set him free the very next day. Since then Homer has not left Ridgeway’s side. Cora attempts to escape again while Ridgeway is shooting at some game. Jasper sets himself free by dying in the wagon as the final result of his starving himself to death. Cora almost drowns herself in a river during her escape but is rescued and recaptured by Ridgeway.
6"Chapter 6: Tennessee – Proverbs"Barry JenkinsNathan C. Parker and Barry JenkinsMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
Arnold Ridgeway takes Cora to his father's home so he can pay his last respects to the dying old man. Nevertheless there is no reconciliation between father and son. Drunken Ridgeway tells Cora that Caesar was ripped apart by an outraged crowd after the white town folks learned he and Cora allegedly killed a white youth during their flight (Episode 1). When Ridgeway falls asleep, three armed freedmen under their leader Royal free Cora and take her to the next Underground Railroad station. Ridgeway is left behind, chained to his bed frame and guarded by a grown-up limping Mack (Episode 4). Homer sneaks in, killing Mack, and frees his father substitute.
7"Chapter 7: Fanny Briggs"Barry JenkinsJihan CrowtherMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
This short episode switches back to the events in North Carolina (Episode 3). The burning Martin house sets the neighborhood on fire and the resulting turmoil facilitates Grace's escape through the back door. Mrs. Martin is hanged on a tree by her wrists, left to die slowly and painfully. Grace makes it to the half-destroyed Underground Railroad station. Climbing over a boulder heap, the young girl spots a waiting train. Though Grace was the name given to her by Mrs. Martin, she reveals her true identity to the female train manager. She is Fanny Briggs.
8"Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn"Barry JenkinsJacqueline HoytMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
Cora follows Royal to the Valentine Farm, an independent black community and winemakery in Indiana, which prospers under the guidance of the Afro-American founding couple, Georgina and John Valentine. As free people of color, the settlers are even allowed to bear fire arms. Royal explains to Cora that she is now safe since slave catchers are not allowed to set foot on any person’s property without a warrant from the local judge, who the community bribes in order to be warned before that document is issued so the hunted person or persons can escape. However, since Cora is not only a simple runaway but a fugitive murderer, her status is precarious. Influential black community member Mingo wants her expelled. Royal spends time with Cora hoping to help her let go of her past and see that she is part of something greater. Cora rejects his efforts and later finds he has left on a mission for the community with two other men.
9"Chapter 9: Indiana Winter"Barry JenkinsBarry JenkinsMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
Royal returns with a group of men and women, and Cora opens up about her feelings towards his leaving and then tells her story to the community, including her attack of a young man during her flight. Mingo, a community member and a self-freed former slave, interrupts her tale to express his concerns of having her stay since Cora poses a danger to them as being a wanted criminal. Ridgeway, after burning Mack’s body, goes on to hunt Cora and appears in the local town. He demands a warrant from Judge Smith to search the village for Cora but the judge refuse Ridgeway until the latter can come to produce a deed proving Cora is runaway property. Royal and Cora spend personal time together. In town, businessman Hardmann, Judge Smith, Mingo, and another businessman play cards while discussing a deal for a percentage of the community’s fine wine. Cora tells Royal of her concern that the community will force her to leave. Ridgeway is frustrated having to wait for the deed and stops Judge Smith and Hardmann on the street to make another demand to search the community. The judge rejects it. Hardmann later visits Ridgeway offering his assistance. On the day when it will be decided if Cora can stay or not, the townsmen Mingo invited arrive during the debate and Ridgeway, with Homer, illegally enter the village along with a group of gunmen. Homer mystically knows exactly which cabin is Cora’s. Hardmann’s men then proceed to massacre most of the people living on the winery. In the end, Royal is killed and grief-stricken Cora is caught again by Ridgeway. But this time, Cora tricks Ridgeway and shoots him. She and young Molly escape through the local Underground Railroad tunnel.
10"Chapter 10: Mabel"Barry JenkinsBarry Jenkins and Jacqueline HoytMay 14, 2021 (2021-05-14)
This episode discloses the mystery of the disappearance of Cora's mother, Mabel. When a mentally unstable fellow slave kills her own two foster children and then herself, Mabel flees into a swamp. She comes to her senses and realizes that little Cora has been left behind. Mabel intends to return, but is bitten by a snake and dies, without anyone seeing it. Some ten years later, Cora and Molly climb out of the Underground Railroad tunnel and a prairie schooner later approaches, driven by a stranger. They board, heading west for an unknown future.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

On September 16, 2016, it was announced that Barry Jenkins was set to adapt Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad into a limited series. Jenkins was expected to produce the series alongside Adele Romanski. Production companies involved with the series were set to include Plan B Entertainment.[6] On March 27, 2017, it was reported that Amazon Video had given the production a script-to-series commitment.[7] On June 5, 2018, it was announced that Amazon given the production a formal greenlight and that Jenkins would direct all eleven episodes of the series.[3] In June 2019, Nicholas Britell announced he would serve as composer on the series.[8]

Casting[edit]

In April 2019, Thuso Mbedu, Chase W. Dillon, Aaron Pierre and Joel Edgerton joined the cast of the series.[9][10] In August 2019, Damon Herriman and William Jackson Harper joined the cast of the series in recurring roles.[11][12] In September 2019, Lucius Baston joined the cast of the series in a recurring role.[13] In October 2019, Amber Gray joined the cast of the series in a recurring role.[14] In November 2019, Jim Klock joined the cast of the series in a recurring role.[15] In January 2020, Lily Rabe joined the cast of the series in a recurring role.[16] In February 2020, Fred Hechinger and the rest of the cast was announced.[17][18]

Filming[edit]

Filming began around August 2019 in Richmond Hill and other locations in Savannah, Georgia.[citation needed] Filming took place in January 2020 in Dawsonville, Georgia at Highway 53 and Lumpkin Campground.[citation needed] Other filming took place in Macon, Georgia at the Terminal Station in downtown on February 11 and 12, 2020 and in Newborn, Georgia on Highway 142 on February 25, 2020.[citation needed] On September 22, 2020, Jenkins announced that filming had wrapped.[19]

Release[edit]

On February 25, 2021 a first official teaser trailer was released.[18] The first official trailer was later released on April 15, 2021.[20] The Underground Railroad was released on Amazon Prime Video on May 14, 2021.[21]

Reception[edit]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 95% based on 78 critic reviews, with an average rating of 8.78/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "With a superb ensemble and Barry Jenkins' singular eye, The Underground Railroad delicately translates its source material into a powerfully humane series that is as challenging as it is necessary."[22] Metacritic gave the series a weighted average score of 92 out of 100 based on 35 critic reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[23]

Reviewing the series for Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall gave a rating of 4/5 and described the series as "an imperfect take on a painful, sprawling subject. But its emotional highs and lows are stronger than anything you are likely to find on TV this year, just as those images are more gorgeous and nightmarish."[24] Stephen Robinson of The A.V. Club gave the series an A and said, "Jenkins has assembled an amazing cast, including William Jackson Harper as Cora's love interest, Royal, and Lily Rabe, who chills the screen as Ethel, the wife of a North Carolina abolitionist (Damon Herriman)."[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "JAMES LAXTON BEGINS SHOOTING THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD". Lux Artists. June 4, 2019. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Robinson, Stephen (May 5, 2021). "Barry Jenkins outdoes himself in the transcendent Underground Railroad". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Andreeva, Nellie (June 5, 2018). "Amazon Greenlights Barry Jenkins & Plan B's 'Underground Railroad' Limited Series With Jenkins Directing All 11 Episodes". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Underground Railroad". Writers Guild of America West. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  5. ^ "The Underground Railroad – Listings". The Futon Critic. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  6. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (September 17, 2016). "Plan B & Barry Jenkins To Adapt Hot Novel 'Underground Railroad' As Limited Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 27, 2017). "Amazon Lands Barry Jenkins & Plan B's 'Underground Railroad' Limited Series". Deadline. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Grobar, Matt (June 4, 2019). "'Succession' Composer Nicholas Britell Channels "Darkess And Absurdity" Of Power-Hungry Elite". Deadline. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  9. ^ Otterson, Joe (April 16, 2019). "Barry Jenkins' 'Underground Railroad' Series at Amazon Sets Three Main Cast Members". Variety. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  10. ^ Otterson, Joe (April 18, 2019). "Joel Edgerton Joins Barry Jenkins' 'Underground Railroad' Amazon Series (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  11. ^ Petski, Denise (August 16, 2019). "Damon Herriman Joins 'Underground Railroad'; 'Ballers' Casts Catherine Haena Kim". Deadline. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  12. ^ Petski, Denise (August 22, 2019). "'The Underground Railroad': William Jackson Harper To Recur On Amazon Series". Deadline. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  13. ^ Pellegreene, Lisa (November 28, 2019). "'Lucius Baston discusses multiple projects to include "Bigger", Lovecraft Country" and "The Underground Railroad"'". Patch. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  14. ^ Evans, Greg (October 24, 2019). "'The Underground Railroad': Broadway's Amber Gray Joins Amazon Limited Series". Deadline. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  15. ^ Petski, Denise (November 1, 2019). "'13 Reasons Why's Bryce Cass Joins Amazon's 'Panic'; Jim Klock In 'The Underground Railroad'". Deadline. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Petski, Denise (January 22, 2020). "'The Underground Railroad': Lily Rabe To Recur On Amazon Series". Deadline. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  17. ^ Petski, Denise (February 27, 2020). "'The Underground Railroad': Fred Hechinger Joins Amazon Drama Series". Deadline. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  18. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (February 25, 2021). "Barry Jenkins' 'The Underground Railroad' Unveils First Trailer and Release Date". Collider. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  19. ^ Jenkins, Barry [@BarryJenkins] (September 22, 2020). "Day 116 of 116 is complete. At long last, that's a wrap 🙏🏿" (Tweet). Archived from the original on February 3, 2021. Retrieved February 25, 2021 – via Twitter.
  20. ^ Haylock, Zoe (April 15, 2021). "The Underground Railroad Trailer: All Aboard Barry Jenkins's Long-Awaited Series". Vulture. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  21. ^ Haring, Bruce (February 25, 2021). "'The Underground Railroad' Amazon Prime Limited Series Sets Premiere Date". Deadline. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  22. ^ "The Underground Railroad: Limited Series". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  23. ^ "The Underground Railroad: Season 1". Metacritic. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  24. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (May 10, 2021). "'The Underground Railroad': Barry Jenkins' Gorgeous Journey Into American Darkness". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 13, 2021.

External links[edit]