Film Review: Harriet

09:00 October 31, 2019
By: Fritz Esker

Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale) stars as the legendary escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a conventional but sometimes entertaining biopic directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou).

Tubman begins the film as a slave in Maryland. When the family that owns her plans to sell her to a plantation in the Deep South, Tubman escapes to Pennsylvania. There, she joins the Underground Railroad and becomes one of their most effective agents, leading many other slaves to freedom. The son (Joe Alwyn) of her old owner remains obsessed with her and hopes to re-capture her.

Rated PG-13, Harriet does not have the unflinching brutality of movies like 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained or Amistad. However, the rating can serve a purpose by making the film more accessible to younger viewers. If you have a child in the 4th through 8th grades who is developing an interest in abolitionist figures like Tubman or Frederick Douglass, Harriet would be a good movie to show them if you're uncomfortable with exposing them to the R-rated extreme violence and gore of the previously mentioned slavery films.

Harriet is competent in all regards, but it rarely soars to memorable heights. It's a conventional, connect-the-dots biopic. I saw it a month ago at a press screening. It was reasonably entertaining, but a month later, few scenes have lingered. It's by no means a bad film, but it's not a must-see, either.

★★½ stars (out of four)

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