REVIEW: New film ‘Harriet’ relays history in a captivating and inspiring way


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Erivo’s acting develops the film in an emotional way.

A family embraces over a soft piano composition as the screen fades to black. The word “Harriet” appears on the screen and the entire theater erupts into applause.

On Friday, Nov. 1, “Harriet,” starring Cynthia Erivo, was released. The film documents Harriet Tubman’s life and her work on the Underground Railroad in a moving and suspenseful way.

Many SCHS students who take AP U.S. History learned about this time period in the week prior to the film’s release, so the plot and history behind “Harriet” was relevant.

“Harriet” closely follows Harriet Tubman’s personal life, centering around her inspiring actions in freeing slaves and touching on her accomplishments in the Civil War. The film begins with her own journey of escaping slavery and finding freedom in Philadelphia, then documents her experience freeing others.

Almost every actor in the film provided a raw, emotional performance. Jennifer Nettles and Joe Alwyn, who portrayed Tubman’s masters, played their characters with incredible power. They made the audience despise them and created the perfect amount of suspense in moments when Tubman was close to succeeding in her escape.

Erivo’s performance was by far the most moving. She embodied her character with grace and respect and drew the audience into Tubman’s feelings in a captivating and emotional way. Her character performs some monologues to the members of the Underground Railroad, and Erivo’s delivery of these was powerful and inspiring.

Not only was Erivo’s acting incredible, but the actual plot and the way the film moved gave each character stunning development. The movie didn’t feel like a boring documentary, but rather an action-packed and emotional story, with a clear change in the characters’ personality when they experienced a significant conflict.

A unique aspect of this film were the “spells” scenes. Tubman suffered a head injury from her masters at a young age, causing “spells”: moments where she would fall asleep suddenly and have visions. The film was able to gracefully move away from any action and give the audience the same dizzy feeling that Tubman was experiencing. Each “spell” played a flashback or foreshadowing scene, which provided background for Tubman’s life or small peeks into the scenes to come.

The soundtrack of the film was instrumental in deepening the emotion that the incredible actors and plot points already provided. Mixing traditional slavery songs with intense and inspirational compositions drew audiences into the realities of Tubman’s life. Erivo actually sang some of the slave songs to call those who wished to run, and as a montage escape scene began, her singing faded into the score. In addition, the lack of any music during extremely intense scenes was a simple yet incredibly effective move.

Lastly, the historical accuracy of the film was significant in keeping the plot alive. The costuming, timing of events and dialogue combined to bring viewers into the world in an intimate way.

“Harriet” was an inspiring and powerful film, accurately documenting the incredible life of Harriet Tubman through dynamic acting, moving plot points and poignant score.