Following Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk was never going to be an easy feat – but filmmaker Barry Jenkins has an even more ambitious project up next. He’s adapted Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed novel The Underground Railroad into a series for Amazon, directing all 10 episodes himself – imagining an alternate timeline where the titular network that helped slaves escape to freedom in the 19th Century is a literal subterranean rail system. Coming to the screen in May, it’s set to be a major new work from the Oscar-winning director – one that reframes and recontextualises the narrative around slavery on screen. Here’s an exclusive new behind-the-scenes image of Jenkins directing on set:
“The first episode has some very honest images, the kind of images that we don’t see,” Jenkins tells Empire in the new issue of the magazine. “There’s one voice that is quite loud and quite prominent, you know, and [now] it’s time for this other voice to be just as loud.”
A surprising influence on the show is a slice of Soviet sci-fi – Andrei Tarkovsky’sStalker, the only film Jenkins allowed himself to rewatch while working on his series. “I was sitting in my apartment and Criterion Channel comes up – I don’t know if it was a trailer or just a snippet ofStalker,” he recalls. “And I just forgot how much it is about these men on this train. They even go underground for a little bit. But they’re journeying into this alternate reality.”
The series sees Thuso Mbedu’s Cora Randall escaping a Georgia plantation to discover that the underground railroad is a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern US. Pursued by Joel Edgerton’s bounty hunter, Cora makes her way across the country in a bid for freedom, while also exploring the legacy of the mother who left her behind.
Read Empire’s full feature on The Underground Railroad – talking to Jenkins about pulling off his biggest project yet – in the Tom Hiddleston issue, on sale Thursday 15 April and available to order online here. The Underground Railroad comes to Amazon Prime Video from 14 May.