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Escape from Pretoria (2020)

"It’s tense - heart in your mouth tense."

A movie about the fight against racial intolerance and segregation feels massively relevant and important right now. The horrendous fashions of the 70s may be outdated, but the way of thinking and acting throughout South Africa’s apartheid is still on-trend for way too many people in 2020. Fortunately, there are people out there who will always fight the good fight. Escape From Pretoria tells the (based-on-a-true) story of such a fight.

The movie focusses on Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber)’s imprisonment in, and epic escape from, the Pretoria Central Prison in 1979. Locked up for their ‘leaflet bombs’ - spreading awareness of African National Congress by exploding leaflets into the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town - the pair meet Denis Goldberg, a legendary anti-apartheid activist, and plot a hugely elaborate escape. Along with Leonard (Mark Leonard Winter - a fictionalised version of the real-life third escapee, Alex Moumbaris), they patiently work towards their escape, crafting the tools to earn them their freedom.

"Massively relevant and important right now."

The problem with prison escape movies/TV is that you know almost for certain what it’s leading up to. What matters is what happens in the middle, and if it can keep you entertained for long enough to care about the ending. Escape From Pretoria definitely succeeds in keeping the focus of its audience, with most of your time spent on the edge of your seat or biting your fingernails down to the bone. It’s tense - heart in your mouth tense - despite knowing in the back of your mind that they are going to escape.

And the way the trio do escape is insane. It’s by no means your generic prison escape with tunnels or involving somebody on the outside, or any of that cliché rubbish. The fact that it’s based on true events just makes it even more incredible, with both Tim Jenkin and Denis Goldberg helping out on the film to make sure aspects of it were kept accurate (Jenkin was also an extra in once scene).

"Solid performances and powerful directing."

The performances in this movie are fantastic. Right down to the smaller roles of the obnoxious and brutal prison guards, the characters are realistic and believable without being over-the-top or caricatured. I’ll be honest, I still find it difficult to see Daniel Radcliffe as anybody but Harry Potter. The voluminous hair, bushy beard and giant specs he sports in this movie certainly make it easier to see him as Tim Jenkin, but it’s that child-like innocence he still carries in his eyes that helps make the character easier to empathise and sympathise with. Daniel Webber is great too. Like Radcliffe, he really plays on the humanity and humility of the character. They might be in prison, but they’re certainly not criminals. Plus, despite neither of the leads being South African (Webber is Australian and Radcliffe is, of course, a Great British national treasure), they get the accents pretty spot-on.

Radcliffe’s occasional narration is a nice touch, especially considering the film is based on Jenkin’s book of the same name released in 1987. There isn’t a huge amount of dialogue in the movie, which could’ve easily been a bad thing if not done right, but in this case, it helps to build the tension, keeping the audience gripped and focused on the escape plan.

"Thought-provoking and unforgettable."

There’s some superb directing and editing in the movie, with the stark contrast between the dark and dingy prison (which we often see at night time to make it even darker and dingier) and the bright and sunny outside world. There’s also a few absolutely stunning shots, like when we see the trio through a keyhole and the camera turns along with the key.

It really helps that this movie is based on such an already incredible true story, and like I said at the beginning, that this fight against racism is so relevant right now (and let’s face it, will probably stay relevant for quite some time). The solid performances and powerful directing help bring this tense and fascinating story to life in a way that is hugely entertaining, thought-provoking and unforgettable.


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