'The Underground Railroad' — cast, release date, trailer, plot and everything else on Amazon Prime's slavery drama

The Underground Railroad star Thuso Mbedu as Cora Randall.
The Underground Railroad star Thuso Mbedu as Cora Randall. (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime is a harrowing drama about slavery that has echoes of the groundbreaking saga Roots from the 1970s. 

It starts on a plantation in the pre-Civil War Georgia, where slave Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu) is trapped and desperate to escape. But will a rumoured "Underground Railroad" set her on the path to freedom? 

Here’s everything you need to know about the 10-part drama The Underground Railroad….

The Underground Railroad release date.

Catch The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime Video worldwide from May 14. 

The Underground Railroad — the plot...

'The Underground Railroad' - William Jackson Harper as Royal and Thuso Mbedu as Cora.

'The Underground Railroad' - William Jackson Harper as Royal and Thuso Mbedu as Cora. (Image credit: Amazon Prime)

Cora does indeed end up on the fabled ‘Underground Railroad’. After hearing about it from fellow slave Caesar (Aaron Pierre), they both make a daring escape from their Georgia plantation. She’s stunned to discover it’s an actual railroad, packed full of engineers, conductors and a spider’s web of secret railway tracks deep underneath Georgian soil. Her escape for a better life is by no means guaranteed, however as she finds herself closely followed by bounty hunter Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) who’s determined to take her back to the plantation. And with Ridgeway, Cora’s capture is personal as her mother Mabel is the only escapee who eluded him for good. But is there help along the way for Cora? William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) plays Royal a freeborn slave she encounters on her adventure through the South.

Check out our five star review of The Underground Railroad right here.

The Underground Railroad trailer...

The Underground Railroad trailer looks amazing. 'There's nothing here but suffering' one slave tells Cora. 'You must go!' We think it'll be an emotional watch. Take a look right here below.

The Underground Railroad cast — Thuso Mbedu as Cora Randall…

Aside from escaping from life on a plantation, Cora also has struggles of a more personal kind to contend with. Throughout her life she has been trying to come to terms with her behaviour of her mother, Mabel (Sheila Atim, see below) who herself escaped from the plantation and left Cora behind. 

Cora is played by newcomer Thuso Mbedu, who played Winnie is the South African TV series, Is’Thunzi in 2016 - 2017. She was nominated for an International Emmy Award for her performance. The series followed Winnie and her "girl squad" Londi, Thish and Nox as they navigated life’s obstacles in order to follow their dreams. 

'The Underground Railroad' star Sheila Atim as Mabel.

'The Underground Railroad' star Sheila Atim as Mabel. (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

The Underground Railroad cast — Joel Edgerton as Ridgeway...

Hot in pursuit of Cora is ruthless bounty hunter Ridgeway, which leads to some unbearable tension within the drama. He’s played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who found fame as William McGill in the 2001 popular Aussie tv series The Secret Life of Us. He went on to play Uncle Owen Lars in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones and reprised the role in the 2005 movie Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. He’s also starred in King Arthur in 2004 and Kinky Boots in 2005.

'The Underground Railroad' star Joel Edgerton as ruthless bounty hunter Ridgeway.

'The Underground Railroad' star Joel Edgerton as ruthless bounty hunter Ridgeway. (Image credit: Amazon Prime)

Barry Jenkins, Oscar-winning director of 2016 film Moonlight who has turned The Underground Railroad book bu Colson Whitehead (see below) into this TV series, recalls being enthralled by tales of the so-called railroad as a youngster. 

‘I remember as a kid hearing about the underground railroad, and picturing black people on trains underground,’ he says. ‘And then you learn it wasn’t actually like that, and it was almost like learning that the tooth fairy or Santa Claus didn’t exist. So when I first read the novel, I got that feeling again of being a kid growing up in the projects, and imagining black people on trains underground.

‘In this series, our main character and the settings are evolving alongside one another. Every time she enters a new state – a new physical state but also a new emotional state – Cora is taking greater possession of her inner self, yet her outer self is not quite free.

‘Colson created this book that was very grounded in the actual history. But it also has this very romantic and fantastical element.’

BArry adds that the central character of Cora, whose mother also escaped from the plantation years earlier, really resonated with him. 

‘I fell in love with this book because of Cora,’ he says. ‘She is not a famous person, but I love that this random woman, who suffered the unfortunate fate of being enslaved, has gotten to be the bedrock of this huge mythology.’

The Underground Railroad — the novel…

This Amazon Prime series is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad by American author Colson Whitehead. It took him 10 years to finish and has since been published in 40 languages.

The Underground Railroad and its similarity to Roots…

This isn’t the first time this subject matter has been adapted from a book into a TV series. The classic miniseries Roots, which was first aired in 1977 was based on the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. The story follows young slave Kunta Kinte who spends his life trying to escape from servitude. Roots was then remade in 2016 and this critically acclaimed adaptation starred Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte, Forest Whitaker and Laurence Fishburne who voiced the narration of author Alex Haley. Bridgerton heartthrob Regé-Jean Page got his big break on the show playing Chicken George.

What else do you need to know about The Underground Railroad? 

Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt is one of the executive producers on the 10-part series. The Underground Railroad is directed by Barry Jenkins, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of the 2017 Oscar-winning movie Moonlight. Production of The Underground Railroad took 116 days as with just three days left to go, the coronavirus halted production in Georgia, in the US. 

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.