The Underground Railroad release date: cast, trailer and plot for Amazon drama

Your guide to Amazon’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead's bestselling novel, with the latest trailer ahead of its release this May.

The Underground Railroad

Following the successes of Outlander and Good Omens, it was only a matter of time before Amazon Prime Video snapped up its next novel to adapt.

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Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning book The Underground Railroad is the latest adaptation coming to the streaming service, with Barry Jenkins at the helm. Any Jenkins project is highly-anticipated these days, as the Academy Award winner is the brains behind both Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Now Jenkins is tackling Whitehead’s 2016 alternative history novel, which takes a look at the network of safe houses, which slaves who fled the north used to escape in the 19th century, via a real train track.

Here’s everything you need to know about Amazon’s The Underground Railroad.

When will The Underground Railroad be released on Amazon?

Amazon has confirmed that The Underground Railroad will be released on 14th May 2021 on Amazon Prime Video. There are 10 episodes to get stuck into.

What is The Underground Railroad about?         

The Underground Railroad
Amazon Studios

Set in the 19th century, the alternative history novel follows two slaves working in the Deep South – Cora, a young black woman who is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and newcomer Caesar.

Caesar introduces Cora to the Underground Railroad. In real-life history, this was a route of safe houses and people who would help guide slaves to safety. In the series, this is fictionalised as a real transport system, with tracks, tunnels, conductors and engineers – and the pair use it to flee the plantation. Their daring escape sees them carve through the soil of America searching for freedom and, ultimately, a home.

In an interview with Town & Country last month, director Barry Jenkins said that he strongly relates to the character of Cora.

Telling the magazine that “Cora is me”, Jenkins explained that the young woman’s journey felt relevant to the struggles he experienced in his relationship with his mother, who was “addicted to drugs” and he never lived with.

“I remember getting to the end of the book and finally learning the story of [Cora’s mother] Mabel and understanding that Cora had been on this journey, and been driven by this animus, this hurt,” he said.

“The hurt wasn’t misplaced, because she was right to feel abandoned, but the abandonment was caused by something that was beyond any of their control. And I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is me.’ That’s when everything just clicked.”

The director has also spoken about his reasons for adapting Whitehead’s book as a series, rather than as a feature film – which were as much about sensitivity as about plotting.

“There’s a reason this isn’t a feature film. I didn’t want to force the audience into a captive experience, they can pause, play…you can do whatever,” he told Deadline.

The Underground Railroad cast: Who stars?

Thuso Mbedu will play Cora. Mbedu is an established star in her native South Africa, while Caesar’s Aaron Pierre has previously appeared in Kyrpton.

Other characters from the adaptation are Homer (Chase W. Dillon – The First Wives Club), Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) and Gloria Valentine (Amber Gray).

Lily Rabe (American Horror Story) has confirmed she will play a recurring role as Ethel Wells who, along with her husband Martin (Damon Herriman), helps slaves use the Underground Railroad.

Jenkins, who wrote and directed Oscar-winning Moonlight and critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk, has confirmed he will direct all 10 episodes.

Brad Pitt is among the series’ executive producers, along with Adele Romanski (a producer on Moonlight), Mark Ceryak (executive producer of If Beale Street Could Talk) and Dede Gardner (executive producer of 12 Years A Slave).

Is there a trailer?

The trailer opens with poetry from the book: “‘Ere I saw a dappled wonder settling across the fields / Hovering on angel wings, brandishing a blazing shield.” The clip has already racked up over four million views on YouTube.

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If you’re looking for more to watch, take a look at the rest of our Drama coverage, or check out our TV Guide.