Picks and Pans Review: Race to Freedom: the Underground Railroad

updated 02/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Family Channel (Sat., Feb. 19, 8 p.m. ET)

B+

This film is a fictionalized account of four slaves (Courtney Vance, Janet Bailey, Falconer Abraham and Dawnn Lewis) who flee from a cotton plantation in North Carolina in 1850, hoping to reach Canada. They follow the underground railroad, a loose affiliation of blacks and whites who in the antebellum era acted as guides or allowed their property to be used as temporary refuge for fugitive slaves making the trek to freedom.

The story employs "cameos" from important historical figures such as Harriet Tubman (Alfre Woodard) and Frederick Douglass (Tim Reid). For a far more compelling evocation of the black orator, see Fred Morsell in Presenting Mr. Frederick Douglass, a Bill Moyers special on PBS this week (check local listings).

The period detail in Race to Freedom is not convincing, and the dramaturgy is a little viscous. But Bailey and Vance give affecting performances, and the gross inhumanity of slavery is strongly established. The film is being simulcast on cable's BET channel.

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