Updated: Apr 13
I remember my heartbreak at watching Steve Mcqueens '12 Years a Slave' in 2013, coming to terms with the brutality explored through the camera, and the scary reality that humans were treated this way for so many years. When I saw that Cynthia Erivo, who I had recently discovered had the voice of an angel, was staring as Harriet Tubman the woman warrior who in 1849 dangerously helped 70 slaves escape from Southern American to the free state of Philadelphia, I leapt onto the sofa ready to immerse myself in another powerful true tale.
Everything about Cynthia Erivo in this movie is incredible, which is mainly down to the direction of Kasi Lemmons. Unlike most directors, we haven't seen Kasi direct a feature film for several years - 'Silence of the Lambs' being her most famous debut. The story itself is so powerful, a black women fighting not only for freedom as a human being, but for her race and for her gender too. The way she acts Harriet's character is mesmerising through her strong persona and dedication to carry on rescuing her family and friends. The set built to reflect Philadelphia was stunningly life like due to detailed costumes, realistic boats and rows of dedicated extras. My favourite scenes mainly came from the monologues in the script, predominately from Harriet herself, when demanding to her 'masters' that she is nobody's property. Her power as a black women on screen is exactly what is needed to be shown in our society today. I relished in the singing throughout the film as it felt so soulful, and emotionally truthful, understanding that it was a vital part of communication between the slaves back then.
I found the relationships between the characters fell short in this film. Harriet's relationship between her soon to be husband, John, wasn't as moving as it could have been. When she decided to escape North and leave John at the range, the scene was so briefly explored, with her running in the opposite direction, that I was left confused from then on. I feel Joe Alwyn wasn't casted right for the film, and his acting, alongside 'bad man' Omar Dorsey as Bigger Long, was uncomfortably cringeworthy to watch. I found the post production editing of Harriet's flashes of 'words with god' was dire, and the blue washes on the screen didn't make much sense from the start. I feel if these edits was shown in the same colour tone as the rest of the film, with a slight blur, it would have made more sense to the viewer and looked visually better on the screen.
Kasi Lemmons efforts to depict this American abolitionist story is seen shown primarily through the superb acting of Cynthia Erivo in the film. I respected the decision to not throw an excessive amount of violence into story, not intensely zooming in on the punishments which previous films have solely explored, but instead focusing on Harriets heroic efforts. However, many of the other actors casted lacked the experience and passion needed for the movie, along with the washing edits, which ultimately made it harder to experience and feel such a memorable story about this woman from our history.