Prime Video has released Barry Jenkins’ 10 part series adapted from Colson Whiteheads prize winning book The ‘Underground Railroad’. It’s not for the faint hearted.

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The story follows Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu) on her bid for freedom from a brutal plantation in the slavery sodden Georgia south of the United States before the civil war in the 1860s.

Slaves on the run were transported by an abolitionist ‘Underground Railroad’. Here magic realism produces a literal underground railway of tunnels, steam trains and stations. After escaping from the plantation, Cora has a Gulliver’s Travel journey through the strange world of the Deep South of the early 1800’s, pursued by slave catcher Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton).

It is a story of terror, confusion and redemption, courage and cruelty. Whippings, burnings, forced sterilisation and medical experiments are all there to remind us of the not so distant US history of white supremacy, exploitation and human trafficking. The inhuman obscenity  is beyond shocking, made all the more real by the Cora’s confused dream states and flash backs.

The cinematography for this series is a stylistic tour de force. It lights up Cora’s confused interior world and the characters that surround her. The casting is excellent with great performances.

But it’s not easy watching. Setting aside the brutality and inhumanity, this is a closely observed, nuanced story that moves in a mannered way.  It invites the viewer to engage with a foreign world through Cora’s eyes.  Viewing requires attention to detail and a willingness to observe a time and world view that aims to make the viewer uncomfortable and unsettled. This is serious drama with a social message. It is not a ripping yarn intended for light relief.