Escape from Pretoria

Daniel Radcliffe as Tim Jenkin in 'Escape from Pretoria.'
Daniel Radcliffe as Tim Jenkin in 'Escape from Pretoria.'
Photo: TNT


3/5 Stars


Based on the real-life prison break of two political captives, Escape from Pretoria is a race-against-time thriller set in the tumultuous apartheid days of South Africa.


In 1979 three political prisoners escaped from Pretoria Prison. They didn't dig a tunnel, they didn't scale a wall - they walked right through the front door. It's the perfect plot for a movie, more so because it is a true story.

Directed by Frances Annan, Escape from Pretoria it based on the 2003 book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison, written by Tim Jenkin and tells the story of the intricate prison break of Tim, Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris.

The action starts off immediately as we see Tim (Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen (Daniel Webber) plant "leaflet bombs" - a method used to distribute anti-apartheid flyers – in the city. Their nervousness emits from the screen the moment they spot the police descending on them.

A quick trial and sentencing follow, and the antagonists of the story are quickly exposed as a warden tells Tim: "You are the white Mandela," upon his arrival at the prison.

Once in prison, they are taken under the wing of an older inmate, Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart), who shows them the ropes and gives them a warning to not try to escape; they are, after all, "prisoners of conscience". However, Tim is undeterred and immediately starts thinking of ways to get out, together with Stephen and Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter), a fictional character.

The rest of the movie centres on the trio finessing their escape plan. In true MacGyver style, Tim meticulously memorises the guards' cell keys and works on making wood copies of them. Once the keys are made, they do trial runs of their escape. This keeps the suspense going throughout the film. Will they get caught? Will the keys be discovered in Tim's cell when they do random searches? You're constantly at the edge of your seat.

The plot of the film is heavily skewed to the escape story, so we don't get to know the characters in depth, which I felt was lacking. There is a peek into Leonard's life story during a prison visit with his son. While I was rooting for them to escape, for me, there was a lack of emotional connection to the characters.

When it comes to the acting, Daniel Radcliffe is the star of the show. His quiet resilience and determination is the primary driver of the story, and he carries the drama well. The rest of the supporting cast deliver okay performances.

I have to mention though, that sometimes the characters' accents were a bit distracting. The South African accent is notoriously tricky to master and with the film shot in Australia, there isn't a local presence.

While Escape from Pretoria follows familiar prison break tropes, its strength is that it is a true story. It's a good Saturday night watch that will keep you in suspense.


Escape from Pretoria airs on Saturday, 4 July, at 20:00 on TNT (DStv 137)

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