Escape from Pretoria
Telling the remarkable true story of Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee’s escape from Pretoria Prison back in 1979, this aptly titled film directed by Francis Annan is adapted from the 2003 book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison, penned by escapee Jenkin himself. Two white South Africans who fight for the cause of the African National Congress, Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lee (Daniel Webber) find themselves imprisoned after being caught exploding leaflet bombs, spreading anti-apartheid propaganda.
Insisting they won’t be staying long, the pair, with the help of other inmates including social campaigner Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart), begin plotting their escape, making wooden copies of keys to every door in the prison with the aim of picking their way to liberation. As the days go by, the strains of secrecy begin to show in all the men, struggling to keep the bloodthirsty guards away from their plans. All they know is that if they are rumbled once, they can kiss their freedom goodbye.
Radcliffe takes the lead in this true South African Shawshank Redemption, starring as the brains of the operation with his full bushy beard and spectacles. Undeniably endearing in his portrayal, Radcliffe has one objective – to escape – and he is willing to go to any extremes to reach his goal. A number of close encounters make this almost impossible in the not just lawless, but near-savage atmosphere within the prison walls. But all the while the viewer is offered a glimpse of hope through the keyhole, even when Jenkin and his team are at their lowest.
Interestingly, the characters are not always as calm and calculated as one might expect. The film delves deeper into the emotional and psychological strain that such an environment and expedition can have on inmates as the days tick by, and it endeavours not just to entertain but to inform, doing so in a gripping retelling of a courageous and admirable battle of cunning, desire and belief. The movie searches further to teach a lesson about the anti-apartheid movement with the inclusion of Goldberg, suggesting that in the time of apartheid, everyone was a political prisoner; the wish to escape was the sole component that separated them.
The film has a steady crescendo throughout, with plot and tension levels rising continuously until it finally reaches a pulse-raising climax. There is very little that takes place outside the prison walls, but that is not to say that events that occur in the concrete confinements don’t make for a riveting drama. It is also easy to pick faults in the actors’ South African accents, given that neither Radcliffe, Webber or Hart originate from the country, but in reality, when all the cards are laid out, they are pretty damn convincing. If you are looking for a fascinating prison break thriller to fill an empty evening, Escape from Pretoria might just be your answer.
Escape from Pretoria is released in select cinemas on 6th March 2020.
Watch the trailer for Escape from Pretoria here: