Harriet: Mostly Historically Accurately Film About Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

4130_D002_00630_R Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release. Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

In the early and mid 1800s, African-American slaves escaped slavery via the Ungerground Railroad, a system of secret pathways from Southern plantations to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and later to Canada. In the center of it all was Harriet Tubman, a former slave that freed hundreds of slaves over her lifetime under the name Moses. Her story was brought back to life on the big screen for the first time by Focus Pictures in their new film Harriet.

The historically accurate film portrays Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still, a free black man from Philadelphia that helps Harriet after her escape from Maryland, Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess, Tubman’s former slave owner, and Cynthia Erivo as our main character Harriet Tubman. The acting was stellar for this film, although more for some scenes than for others.

Though the film is mostly historically accurate, there were some parts where it didn’t do so well. The film sometimes stretches events past the point of historical accuracy for dramatic effect. The film didn’t even get to the Civil War until the last few minutes of the film, which is crazy considering that was when the biggest freeing of slaves took place and that the events of the Civil War were some of Tubman’s latest notable actions before her retirement in 1865.

One thing the film uses a bit too often is Tubman’s epilepsy. When she was young, she had a head injury that resulted in an intense head injury modern historians believe resulted in temporal lobe epilepsy, meaning she frequently experienced seizures that Tubman interpreted as messages from God. This is used as a convenient plot device throughout the film. While it might have been that these ‘messages from God’ might have helped her out in some scenarios, I seriously doubt that they were as convenient in real life as they were in the film.

The film pushes its PG-13 rating, with violence throughout, blood, foul language, and racial slurs (although you probably expected the last one). You definitely better do your research before letting young kids into the theater for this one.

Overall the movie is pretty good. The only downside is the historical inaccuracies, but even those are rare in comparison to other historical movies. It features great acting, story, and even has some romantic-drama elements if you’re into that kind of stuff.