Film Review – Escape From Pretoria (2020)

After 20 plus years playing the boy wizard, Daniel Radcliffe has done his best to make sure when Hogwarts door closed for him he wouldn’t be forgotten. Same could be said about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson with Twilight Saga. One could argue about the qaulity of those films, which we’ll leave you to decide. For Radcliffe , his path has taken him from Stage to television to mainstream cinema to independent films, like Escape From Pretoria.

From the boy who lived to real life anti-apartheid activist Tim Jenkins who was once knicknamed the ‘White Mandala‘ by a prison guard. We find ourselves in the heart of 1970’s South Africa’s Apartheid. Tim Jenkins (Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel L Webber) are ANC activists, both look like they are about to detonate a ‘bomb’. This is no ordinary bomb. it’s one with Anti-apartheid materials that would eventually get the pair arrested. Resulting in them being sent to a notorious prison in Pretoria.

Already Tim is planning his escape, before he could take anything to the next stage him and Stephen learn the harsh realities of prison life. Eventually both come under the protection of long time imprisoned ANC member Dennis (Ian Hart). He discourages both not to plan an escape only to anger Dennis with their determination. They do find Frenchman Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter)who shares their plane to escape the prison.

Francis Annan directs this film and keeps the film’s narrative simple. Keeping the Escape From Pretoria a straight up jailbreak thriller rather than overly complicate things with its history. We don’t see the brutality full on in every scene which the prisoners are subjected to daily. What we get is a taster of that with Leonard is only allowed 30 minutes once a year to meet his son. The prison guards have all the power, a cruel act by them when they cut the visit short, heart breaking stuff.

The opening scene highlights how inept and corrupt the South African government was at the time. Oppressive government that jails their people for using their democratic right to protest.

The incateration of Tim and Stephen and their determination to escape. This could be seen as a generational thing, which the older prisoners seem happy to see out their time. Tim’s planning is ingenious, esecially creating keys out of wood.

Putting the politics of the story to one side helps the film progress. Annan takes advantage of the prison surroundings, feeding us little nuggets of the brutality prisoners are subjected to. The tensions rise when Tim makes the keys using wood and gum to mould them. When they test out the keys for the first time, only for him to drop it. Using the gum and a broomstick to retrive the key is a suspenseful.

Escape From Pretoria is essentially Daniel Radcliffe’s film. He commands the film really well, a commited performance as Tim Jenkins who refuses to give u at any cost. The film may not be blessed with originality, it knows it’s limits and all created on a shoestring budget. A tension fuelled film that consumes you, whilst reminding us the horrors, the politics, of Apartheid South Africa. Unadulterated indie thriller.


Crime, drama | UK, 2020 | 15 | Blu-ray | Signature Entertainemt | Dir.Francis Annan | Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Webber, Ian Hart, Mark Leonard Winter,

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