I’ve read the book it’s based on, so I knew what horrors to expect, but even still, Amazon’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad packed an incredibly powerful emotional punch.
The Pulitzer-winning novel took the metaphoric railroad – a network of secret routes and safe houses that slaves took when fleeing north to escape plantations – and, in a twist of magical realism, made it a literal subterranean train.
Director Barry Jenkins – who’s probably best known for collecting the best picture Oscar for Moonlight after the infamous La La Land boo-boo – doesn’t hold back when it comes to depicting the brutal violence of the time (episode one featured a death so grisly I had to close my eyes) but there is also great beauty to be had too.
The series’ central character is runaway slave Cora (Thuso Mbedu), who takes the train to freedom but encounters the worst of America in the process. As the conductor says to her at the start of her journey – “Just look out at the sides as you speed through and you’ll see the true face of America.”
I accept the horrendous subject matter will make The Underground Railroad a tough sell for many people, and even those who do embark on its harrowing journey probably won’t want to binge-watch it over a weekend.
But it’s important to point out that it’s not wall-to-wall brutality.
When the moments of compassion and kindness break through the pain and barbarism, they feel particularly impactful and moving.
The most difficult step is probably making the decision to hit play on the first episode – and I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to put yourself through it.
But I think once you do, you’ll realise how special it is.
Totally unbelievable – but that’s not the point
If The Underground Railroad was absolutely terrible for binge-watching, BBC1’s The Pact was precision-engineered to make viewers keep watching.
It’s a story of four pals who decide to get revenge on their terrible boss by leaving him in a compromising position out in the Welsh wilderness – but of course things don’t go according to plan and soon they’re covering up his untimely demise.
It would be churlish to criticise the show for giving us characters and situations that stretch believability beyond recognition – that’s not the point.
It just wants to entertain you and, to that end, I really didn’t have many quibbles.
The first four episodes aired this week but you can watch the lot on iPlayer.
Fun to play, but less fun to watch
I can completely see why Ewan McGregor signed on to play the New York fashion designer Roy Halston in the new Netflix series that bears his name.
It’s a showy role that demands to be played with the dial turned up to 11 and I’m sure it was an absolute blast to perform – it’s just a shame the series around it doesn’t have half as much joie de vivre.
It’s actually quite remarkable that Netflix and their resident super-producer Ryan Murphy have managed to create such a lifeless show about the famously wild fashion and art scene of 1970s New York.
About halfway through I realised I’d much rather be watching a two-hour documentary about this fascinating man rather than a five-hour miniseries.
Childish view of royalty was lacking insight
I hope no one was expecting any real insight from A Very Royal Baby: From Cradle To Crown (Channel 4).
Harry and Meghan are expecting, so what better reason to trot out Paul Burrell once again to give us his fascinating insider knowledge of the Windsors.
Turns out our modern mini monarchs have lives and expectations that are totally different from those of their predecessors.
Film of the week: Let Him Go (available to rent or own digitally)
Kevin Costner really loves a western. Although on the surface, this 1960s-set family drama/thriller has little in common with his famous horse operas like Dances With Wolves or Open Range, it is a western through and through.
Costner and co-star Diana Lane – reunited after playing Superman’s parents in Man of Steel – play peace-loving Montana ranchers who go head-to-head with a bloodthirsty clan of rednecks who have abducted their only grandson.
Let Him Go follows the beats of the old western to the letter – albeit with cars instead of horses – although be warned: it has a 30 minute stretch of violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tarantino movie.
The brutal bloodshed feels a little out of place from what came before it, but it certainly ups the stakes and drives the plot to a fiery (in more ways than one) conclusion.