Escape From Pretoria Review

Escape From Pretoria
Apartheid-era freedom fighter Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) is captured after a political protest and sentenced to 12 years in Pretoria Local Prison. Desperate to continue the fight against injustice, he plots a daring escape with his fellow prisoners.

by Ben Travis |
Published on
Release Date:

06 Mar 2020

Original Title:

Escape From Pretoria

The method of prison-break at the heart of Escape From Pretoria feels made for the movies: Tim Jenkin (Radcliffe), a political prisoner in Apartheid-era South Africa, hand-crafted a set of wooden keys, whittled in secret and maneuvered into his cell door via a complex contraption of levers, to facilitate his bid for freedom. It’s a shame, then, that this adaptation of the true story, released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the breakout, ends up feeling so thin.

Radcliffe lends admirable clout to an undertold story as Jenkin, who after executing a non-lethal leaflet-bombing explosive protest in the fight for “a democratic and free South Africa” is sentenced to 12 years along with his accomplice Stephen Lee (Webber). But beyond the character’s extraordinary actions, his characterisation lacks dimensions ­– Radcliffe puts in a solid performance lumbered by a clunky script (“You are the white Mandela!” a guard blurts early on) that fails to get under the skin of Jenkin or any of the supporting characters. Throw in the added complications of an unconvincing wig and a tricky, wavering Joburg accent, and the heart of the movie feels hollow. Potter fans will likely enjoy seeing Radcliffe reunited on-screen with Philosopher’s Stone co-star Ian Hart as fellow prisoner Denis Goldberg, though this once again sees the actor move further away from the role that made him (here he pushes a metal tube up his backside on entering the prison – bonus points to the foley artist for the accompanying sound effect).

Director Francis Annan at least keeps the set-pieces tense – Jenkin’s escape attempts are fraught with peril, his flimsy wooden keys prone to breaking or skidding across the floor. One sequence which sees him desperately try and retrieve a lost key with a stick and a piece of gum brings genuine palm-sweats. But despite a fascinating true story and some effective sequences, the human drama consistently fails to deliver.

Despite an inherently cinematic story and some effective sequences, Escape From Pretoria struggles to transcend a clunky, one-dimensional script.
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