Review: Escape from Pretoria (2020)

Escape from Pretoria (2020)

Directed by: Francis Annan | 106 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Webber, Mark Leonard Winter, Ian Hart, Nathan Page, Grant Piro, Lenny Firth, Lliam Amor, Adam Tuominen, PJ Oaten, Ratidzo Mambo, Vuyo Loko, Maris J. Caune, Adam Ovadia, Rory Walker, Genevieve Mooy

‘Escape from Pretoria’ is an escape thriller along the lines of ‘Papillon’ and ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ and, like those classics, based on a true story and the book written following the escape. South Africa, late 1970s. Tim Jenkin (1948) graduated as a social scientist. During his studies he met Stephen Lee. The two become friends. They are becoming more and more interested in the anti-apartheid movement. While distributing pamphlets for the Nelson Mandela-led but banned group ANC, the two, played by Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber, are arrested.

Soon after the trial that offers no surprises – Tim gets twelve years, Stephen eight; the parents of both young men show emotions between paralyzed and intensely sad – the film moves to prison. They are introduced to other idealistic political prisoners, such as Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart, previously starred with Daniel Radcliffe in the first Harry Potter film) and Leonard Fontaine (a fictional character because the real third prisoner who wanted to escape, Alexandre Moumbaris, is did not cooperate with this film).

From the start, Tim makes no secret of his desire to escape. But how? One night, he gets a revelation and realizes that he’d been approaching the problem wrong until then. You have to start with what you know and build on that. And so he starts counterfeiting the keys. First on a drawing, then with wood that he smuggles from the workshop. He works with endless patience and precision and always gets a little further. It’s fascinating to watch, aided by the cinematography, which builds suspense by occasionally zooming in on the intricate technique in the keyholes.

Posterboy Radcliffe is more than decent in this thriller, but Mark Leonard Winter also impresses as Leonard Fontaine. Strangely enough, this character still gets the most background; in a heartbreaking scene we see how a prison guard takes devilish pleasure in cutting his son’s visit short. Director Francis Annan, who was also partly responsible for the screenplay, chose to focus mainly on the road to the escape; as a biography of Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee, this film falls short.

The outcome may be assumed to be known, but that does not diminish the tension. ‘Escape from Pretoria’ is a smooth film that succeeds in its design. Immersive and entertaining.

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