THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, director Barry Jenkins’ masterful 10-part series developed from Colson Whitehead ’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, is powerful, revolting, spectacularly beautiful and riveting. Anyone expecting historical accuracy will have their expectations dashed within the first moments as a real underground train pulls into view. But if you approach the work knowing that Jenkins and his production team will provide bits of magical realism with characters and images that will live with you always, you will not be disappointed.
This is the story of Cora, an escaped slave who is striving to make her way north. On the way she discovers an idealized black owned winery, an all-white religious town that is as dark as it’s houses, an affluent city which seemingly treats blacks with respect. And many, many cruelties.
Underneath it all, you know sadness and horror awaits.
Jenkins does not pull any punches. The language is shocking, the imagery deliberately offensive even when the images are of hell on earth. The music – except for the jarring contemporary songs which conclude each episode – is magical.
You will want to turn away, but Cora - a masterful performance by Thuso Mbedu – will always bring you back. Joel Edgerton is perfectly evil as a slave catcher intent on bringing her back to her chains.
While the first episodes were hard to sit through, I found myself drawn in. And while based in history, there is so much to learn for our society today.