Escape From Pretoria

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19th February 2020

No Wooden Acting Here, Just Keys

During the seventies, eighties, even into the early nineties, South Africa was ruled by apartheid. The violence was horrible, black people were slain in the streets, and then left there.

One particular group, who went by the name of the African National Congress, better known as the ANC, decided enough was enough and embarked on an, initially non-violent, protest to end apartheid.

The ANC was made-up of both black and white African’s, and some non-African’s too. Two of those, Tim Jenkin’s, played here by Daniel Radcliffe (“Beast Of Burden”, “Swiss Army Man”), and Stephen Lee, Daniel Webber (“The Punisher (TV)”, “11.22.63 (TV)”), where white South African’s.

During one protest, in which they set-off explosions to letter-bomb neighbourhoods as to the struggle, they are caught and sent to Pretoria Prison – one of the toughest prisons in South Africa, Jenkin’s for 12-years, Lee for eight.

Whilst in prison they meet Leonard Fontaine, Mark Leonard Winter (“Pine Gap (TV)”, “The Dressmaker”), an additional character added for the movie (the original third escapee was Alex Moumbaris), a Frenchman who is frustrated at not being able to see his child grow up, he wants in on the escape the two young men immediately begin to plot.

Fellow ANC members who are also in Pretoria prison, including Denis Goldberg, Ian Hart (“Dusty And Me”, “Dough”), who was sentenced to 22-years in prison and was linked to Nelson Mandela, don’t want to know, believing the struggle they are going through in prison is enough.

There’s just one major question; how on earth are these three men going to escape a prison which no-one else has? They can’t go over the 20-foot wall, they can’t tunnel, so what to do?

The answer, from Jenkin’s, is to simply unlock the doors and walk straight on out of the front door. Seems remarkable, but this is exactly what they did. During compulsory shifts at the prison wood workshop, Jenkins began making exact replicas of the keys he saw hanging round the guards waists.

This was just the beginning though. The cells they were kept in had two doors: an inner barred door, as we’re used to seeing in jails, but also an outer, three-inch thick steel door, that had no lock on the inside.

So, when Jenkins managed to open his inner barred door, he then had to find a way to get a key into the lock outside his cell and turn it to open the lock. He managed this with an intricate system attached to a broom handle whilst hanging out of the tiny windows on his cell.

In all the trio had to open a staggering 11 doors to reach freedom. Some of those doors were right next to where the prison guards spent their time.

Francis Annan (“Woyzeck”, “Get Away”) directs and wrote alongside L. H. Adams and Karol Griffiths. All have done a superb job here, the tension is palpable once the trio begin to realise their plan. You will be cringing and on the edge of you seat as various doors are unlocked, doesn’t sound the most tension-creating thing, but it is, trust me.

Annan directs with aplomb. Sometimes putting us inside of the locks, spinning with the wooden keys, close-ups of the sweat dripping from the brows of our trio, the tension builds and builds until the final release.

Radcliffe, Webber and Winter all perform admirably. There isn’t much dialogue in Escape From Pretoria, and what there is tends to be whispered snippets, so the actors have to find other ways to portray their emotions, and all three do so wonderfully.

Nathan Page (“Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (TV)”, “Underbelly (TV)”) is the prison guard, Mongo, who strikes fear into all of the prisoners. He enjoys his job, beating on the only black prisoner frequently, a little too much.

Escape From Pretoria is a wonderful film that shows an ugly side of a country and those that fought for change.

Signature Entertainment presents Escape From Pretoria in Cinemas from 6th March

Based on the real-life prison break of two political captives, Escape From Pretoria is a race-against-time thriller set in the tumultuous apartheid days of South Africa.

6th March 2020

Francis Annan

Francis Annan, L.H. Adams, Karol Griffiths

Running Time:
1h 46min

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