Set in 1979, the film begins with freedom fighters/terrorists (take your pick) Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe – Horns, Imperium) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber, above-right with Radcliffe and Mark Leonard Winter, left) being jailed for setting off bombs in public places – alebeit ones that exploded leaflets all over the place, in the fight for apartheid.
Alas, for the pair, they get 12 and 8 years, respectively, before Tim’s girlfriend, Daphne (Ratidzo Mambo) gives him some cash, and tells him not to appeal. One would’ve thought that would be a good idea, but he won’t do it because those in control are “fascists“. However, when it comes to hiding the money, there’s only one place the cops won’t look… and he’d best think warm thoughts!!!
Inside, the white guards see them as a “white Mandela” and a traitor to their race. Once indoors, they get no pens, no newspapers, visits once a month – and none of them conjugall and as soon as Tim and Stephen enter, they’re looking all around to see what the potential escape routes are.
Long-termer Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) – with four concurrent life sentences – befriends them and clues them in to life on the inside, but note that Pretoria Prison is not a place where you can just stop and expect someone to talk about your feelings and mental health issues, so if you’re of sound mind, then like Tim, you’d better start devising plans to get out of there… However, how do you get out of a locked door, especially when there’s a full steel panel in front of it?
Along the way, there’s tension aplenty when a ‘key’ gets stuck in the lock and, in fact, the tension is piled on in spades, since this is a prison where if you break the rules, you could get shot to death by a sniper… IF you’re lucky.
Around halfway through, there’s a scene involving heavy breathing, some of which is echoing amongst the surroundings, but for a few seconds in the middle of it, there’s no background noise whatsoever, making it sound like deep breathing in space, as if it’s made in honour of 2001: A Space Odyssey for a similar scene when Dave’s in space and trying to deal with HAL.
Overall, Escape from Pretoria is gripping entertainment with solid story, direction and acting throughout, and highly recommended.
I just wish the screener I saw had subtitles, because the cod-South African accents aren’t brilliant. But then I don’t think I’ve had any good ones on cinema, especially from Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon 2. As such, I had to rewind an awful lot of sentences (which you can’t do if you’re watching this in the cinema), and that did leave me wishing they’d just gone the route of forgoing them altogether, like some dramas do – such as Chernobyl, meaning we understand already that there will be such accents, but we don’t need them as an endless barrier throughout the production.
Running time: 106 minutes
Release date: March 6th 2020
Studio: Signature Entertainment
Director: Francis Annan
Producers: David Barron, Mark Blaney, Gary Hamilton, Michelle Krumm, Jackie Sheppard
Screenplay: Francis Annan, LH Adams
Novel: Tim Jenkin
Music: David Hirschfelder
Tim Jenkin: Daniel Radcliffe
Stephen Lee: Daniel Webber
Denis Goldberg: Ian Hart
Mongo: Nathan Page
Peter Jenkin: Stephen Hunter
Leonard Fontaine: Mark Leonard Winter
Daphne: Ratidzo Mambo
Mary Jenkin: Jeanette Cronin
Political Prisoner: David Wilson
Van Zadelhoff: Adam Ovadia
Prison Warden: Paul Harvey
David Rabkin: PJ Oaten
Vermellen: Lenny Firth
David Kitson: Lliam Amor
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.