“Harriet” (REVIEW) Erivo Shines as Tubman!

Harriet - 2019 - Focus Features
Harriet – 2019 – Focus Features

“HARRIET” starring Cynthia Erivo, is directed by Kasi Lemmons who also serves as the co-writer of the screenplay alongside Gregory Allen Howard. This is of course the story of Harriet Tubman. Chronicling her escape from slavery and how she became involved in the Underground Railroad. Tubman was brave, determined, showed a human spirit few could match, and this film explores her growth into a hero that would free hundreds of slaves. And in doing so, change the course of American history.

I think a Harriet Tubman biopic has been long overdue. She was an extraordinary figure in American history with a life that could fill more than a mini-series. Fitting her life into a single film was something that piqued my curiosity. With the script here from Lemmons and Howard focusing on her escape from slavery into Pennsylvania, and how she achieved her place as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. This felt much more like an origins story as opposed to a wide sweeping biopic. Something that was a bit of a disappointment to me as I would’ve preferred more years covered.

This was a two-hour film that told this section of Tubman’s life, with a bit too methodical of an approach. There were many dialogue driven scenes that effectively built who Tubman was, and what she accomplished. But there were also lengthy scenes between characters that didn’t have as much of a historical impact, as much as they felt like relationship dynamics aimed for dramatic intrigue. It admittedly succeeded because this was an enjoyable film. However, I felt if a larger section of Tubman’s life had been covered, it could have explored more of her work with the freeing of slave from a more grounded aspect. Opposed to the more montage style deliveries these elements of the story ended up having.

It’s still compelling regardless. It’s a celebration of who Tubman was and it’s a film that despite the subject-matter can appeal to mass audiences given its uplifting, positive tone. Yet at the same time, with Erivo delivering a great portrayal, I felt it was a slight missed opportunity to learn much more about who Tubman was and what she would go on to do. Primarily because I felt everything thrived on the performance of Erivo who stepped up into another class of talent with this role. If you haven’t heard of her, you will soon because she was fantastic as Harriet Tubman. Erivo brings an inspired performance that was perfectly layered. She was felt very raw with her emotional growth and through the fear, determination, hope, and bravery, I felt Erivo shined as Tubman.

Something that made me want more of her. This is where the film could have spanned more years which would I think would have allowed Erivo to add even more growth and nuances to the part. So, there is some missed potential in my opinion. The cast surrounding her was fantastic. Everyone brought great performances and landed the needed chemistry with one another and time-period feel to fit their roles. I also thought the wardrobe and production-design was nicely detailed to effectively pull the viewer back into the era. But at the same time through the editing style and the camera techniques, there was a modest ‘Made for TV’ vibe to it.

Something that became more noticeable through the musical scoring, and when the film would visually depict Tubman’s spiritual connection with God. An angle in the story that I felt was done in a way that seemed a little too fantastical for a biopic. Overall though I did enjoy this film. It was inspirational. It elevates the human spirit, and it does celebrate the life of Tubman with a passionate effort. Erivo was excellent as Tubman and she carries the film, when the film allows her to do so. But it was also a bit uneven with its pacing and a tad too limited in its exploration of a life that seemed suited for a story spanning a few decades, not just a handful of years.

GRADE: 75%