Daniel Radcliffe in Escape from Pretoria
Photograph: Ian Routledge/Signature Entertainment
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Escape from Pretoria

3 out of 5 stars

Daniel Radcliffe puts his wizarding days even further behind him with this taut prison break drama about anti-apartheid activists.

Trevor Johnston

Time Out says

The ANC’s white South African members played their part in the struggle for freedom, too. In this true-life drama, we see the contempt in which activists Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee – played by Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber – are held when in 1979 they’re convicted of leafleting against the regime. They’ve every right to be nervous when they arrive at a tough whites-only prison on the outskirts of Pretoria, and find themselves lumped together with the other political detainees. With little prospect of tunnelling out or scaling the high walls, they come up with an admittedly bonkers escape plan. If they can cut wooden keys the same as those hanging from their jailers’ belts, they should be able to unlock their way out...

Okay, so it helps that CCTV hasn’t yet come to the facility. This gives them the run of the place at night as they face the eleven doors they need to open. Still, black British director Francis Annan presents the escalating tension with a steely grip, since evading detection is as much of a task as creating the keys from woodwork shop offcuts.

Putting his wizarding days even further behind him, Radcliffe is very persuasive as the intense, focused Jenkin, who’s gnawed by anxiety the longer the process goes on. Webber has little to work with beside him, and their volatile French cohort (Mark Leonard Winter) is a fictional construct – though given that the script is based on Jenkin’s memoir, we’re not too far from the truth. That said, while the historical context is somewhat functionally sketched-in, it’s the fascination of how they did it, as much as their idealistic motivation, which proves the key factor. As Radcliffe sweats convincingly, we do too, and the idea’s certainly singular enough to warrant a niche in escape-movie history. 

Release Details

  • Rated:12A
  • Release date:Friday 6 March 2020
  • Duration:101 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Francis Annan
  • Cast:
    • Daniel Radcliffe
    • Daniel Webber
    • Ian Hart
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