Compared with the many outstanding Holocaust dramas on big and small screens, surprisingly few features have meaningfully explored that other resonant human-rights crime, slavery. This made-for-TV effort is an earnest but nonetheless pedestrian attempt to correct that situation.
In 1850s North Carolina, a quartet of slaves bolt from a plantation when a visiting Canadian ornithologist informs them of the "underground railroad," a secret network of white abolitionists and freemen who shelter and guide escapees northward to the Ontario border. Eventually one of the slaves
leaves his comrades behind and is recaptured, and another takes sick and dies, but blacksmith Thomas (Courtney B. Vance) and his betrothed, kitchen-worker Sarah (Janet Bailey) remain together, implaccably pursued by bounty-hunter Horton (Ron White) and his tracker, a black man named Solomon
(Glynn Turman) who is trying to buy his freedom with money earned hunting down his own kind. In the end, Solomon turns against Horton and shoots him dead, leaving the sweethearts in peace and breaking his own chains in the bargain.
As the runaways continue their flight, the drama runs hot and cold. Good acting helps, but much of the script could have been stamped "For classroom use only." During the journey Sarah and Thomas encounter such notables as Harriet Tubman and Levi Coffin, while executive producer Tim Reid
contributes a brief appearance as author and orator Frederick Douglass. Michael Riley scores best as the Canadian birdwatcher (another character based on fact), a novice liberator on whose uncertain shoulders the whole rescue mission rests.
The emphasis on Canada's role as sly provocateur in the antislavery movement is a fresh angle on the subject; unfortunately, on-location filming entirely in Ontario limits the supposedly cross-country odyssey with a leaden sameness in the scenery and a low-budget look. After special 1994
theatrical screenings in the Washington D.C. area for schoolchildren, RACE TO FREEDOM had the distinction of premiering in 1994 simultaneously on two separate cable networks, the Family Channel and Black Entertainment Television (BET), going to videocassette the next year.(Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Compared with the many outstanding Holocaust dramas on big and small screens, surprisingly few features have meaningfully explored that other resonant human-rights crime, slavery. This made-for-TV effort is an earnest but nonetheless pedestrian attempt to… (more)