- Filming locations for the biopic Harriet were carefully chosen to recreate the 19th-century American East Coast, with Virginia serving as the backdrop for various scenes.
- Three Lakes Park in Henrico, Virginia, provided the perfect setting for forest scenes in the film, including Tubman guiding enslaved people on the Underground Railroad and scouting for the Union Army.
- The historical Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia, was used as the exterior of Senator William Seward’s New York home in the film, highlighting its relevance to the story and its involvement in the Civil War.
The 2019 biopic Harriet tells the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and, picking up in 1849 Maryland, filmmakers had to get creative with the project’s filming locations. The scenery throughout the film needed to believably look like the 19th-century American East Coast, which meant utilizing modern locations that looked to be pulled straight out of history. Ultimately, this meant taking the cast and crew of Harriet to a variety of places all over the state of Virginia.
Harriet brought the extraordinary life of historical figure Harriet Tubman to the screen and told of the pain and triumphs of her escape from slavery and work to free approximately 70 other men, women, and children. Born in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman’s route to freedom took her from the plantation where she was born to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but this was far from the end of her journey. She would make several more journeys across East Coast states and parts of Canada in her efforts to free enslaved people and act as a scout and spy in the Civil War. However, Harriet director Kasi Lemmons managed to capture the feel of this journey entirely within a single state.
Three Lakes Park – Henrico, Virginia
A great deal of Harriet was set in the forest. This included scenes depicting actor Cynthia Erivo, who played the titular role, guiding enslaved people from safehouse to safehouse along the Underground Railroad, and scenes where an armed Tubman scouted for the Union Army. Of course, there could be no signs of the modern age for these scenes, and the forest trails and paths needed to look as if they could be used for the vehicles of the mid-19th century. To achieve this, the crew headed to Three Lakes Park in Henrico, Virginia.
Three Lakes Park and Nature Center covers 120 acres of land and features a large nature center equipped with a 50,000-gallon aquarium. However, it’s the virtually untouched wooded areas and scenic lakes that make it a popular location for filming. Many of the outdoor scenes of Harriet were shot here, where a couple of the property’s lakes were utilized as well. Three Lakes Park has also served as a filming location for the TV series Turn: Washington’s Spies and The Good Lord Bird.
Berkeley Plantation – Charles City, Virginia
Though sound stages were used for the indoor scenes, the real-world Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia, was utilized for the New York home of Senator William Seward in Harriet. Only the mansion’s exterior was used for the film, but the idea that the historical location once had thousands of people enslaved there made it all the more relevant for the film. Since Harriet‘s characters were seen on screen at this location in 2019, the Berkeley Plantation has opened an exhibit within its walls dedicated to the historical figure and the mansion’s involvement in the Civil War, housing General George McClellan and other soldiers of the Union Army.
Old Towne Petersburg, Virginia
Tubman’s arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a significant moment in Harriet, which was reflected in the atmosphere shift. A free city and state, the area was meant to represent the possible end of Tubman’s journey (though she wound up returning to free those she had left behind). To capture the feel of a bustling 19th-century city full of free Black and white citizens alike, Harriet filmmakers traveled to Old Towne Petersburg, full of historical buildings and cobblestone streets. Once the town was filled with actors and horse-drawn carriages, it was easy to believe that this was truly the promised land Tubman risked everything to reach.
Slavery was abolished in Philadelphia nearly 70 years before Harriet Tubman arrived there in 1849.
State Farm – Powhatan, Virginia
Powhatan County, Virginia, is a rural area full of rolling fields, dense forests, and several historic houses. On a state farm owned by the James River Correctional Center, the crew for Harriet built the set that served as Cynthia Erivo’s Tubman’s home during her enslavement. Another popular filming location in Virginia, the prison property has also been utilized for scenes in the 2018 drama John Addams, the 2012 film Lincoln, and the drama series Turn: Washington’s Spies.
Mathews County, Virginia
Matthews County is located on the Eastern side of Virginia, bordering the Chesapeake Bay and the Piankatank River. This is where the ship “Alliance” is moored, which served as the schooner seen in Harriet. The Alliance required a little dressing up to look like an organic extension of the 1850s setting, but, like many of the other filming locations in Harriet, the impact of using such a setting rather than a sound stage and green screen can’t be overstated.
- Release Date:
- Kasi Lemmons
- Joe Alwyn, Tory Kittles, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cynthia Erivo, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Antonio J. Bell, Deborah Ayorinde, Leslie Odom Jr., Jennifer Nettles, Tim Guinee, Zackary Momoh, Janelle Monae, Omar Dorsey, Clarke Peters, Henry Hunter Hall
- 125 minutes
- History, Biography, Drama
- Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons
- A film about the life of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in the U.S. South and became a Freedom Fighter who led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad.Focus Features came aboard as the movie’s distributor in September 2018. Production began in Virginia the following October and lasted through to December.Watch the Harriet Trailer
- Focus Features
- Focus Features