Noteworthy drama about race and slavery in the mid-19th century is “taken from historical records,” which suggests the story was lifted from papers found in a courthouse basement. Whatever the source material, the telepic highlights an extraordinary situation, and the travails of a free black man are rendered in an absorbing manner that avoids stridency if not predictability.
Instead of turning the title character into a heroic or even tragic figure, the creators have opted for entertainment.
The year is 1852. James Mink (Louis Gossett Jr.) is a wealthy hotelier and livery operator in Toronto, with an Irish wife (Kate Nelligan). Their daughter, Mary (Rachael Crawford), returns from finishing school with ambitions to continue her education and become a teacher.
Father has other plans. Practical-minded, he sees her mixed race as a liability. In search of the right — that is, white — husband, Mink puts an ad in the paper offering an extravagant dowry.
A series of fortune-hunters are rejected until an American horse trader named Johnson (Peter Outerbridge) comes along. The normally shrewd Mink makes the worst deal of his life.
The couple marry, but once across the U.S. border, Johnson and his servant promptly rape Mary and sell her to a lascivious Virginia plantation owner, who looks like a dime-store Rhett Butler as portrayed by Winston Rekert.
Mary gets word to her parents, who are forced to smuggle her out of the South with the help of the Underground Railroad.
Stereotypes from the era are fully utilized. The debauched white Southerners and plantation owner’s Mammy (Ruby Dee) are stock characters. And while much of the dialogue seems anachronistic, there’s an absence of moralizing speeches and extraneous commentary. The abundant ironies and role reversals are implicit, not indulged, in the script by Bryon White, Brian Bird and John Wierick.
Likewise, director Bruce Pittman lets the narrative speak for itself. Vidpic moves at a rapid pace.
Restrained leading perfs are adequate. Gossett is suitably statuesque, though his accent is hard to place, and Nelligan is stoical. Outerbridge gives no quarter as the heinous villain.
William Beeton’s production design and Csilla Marki’s costumes are quite good , and Canadian locations suffice for Virginia and environs.