Talk about tense. Both Mrs W and I were biting our nails down to the quick. I am genuinely surprised that Escape From Pretoria doesn't have wider cinema distribution in the UK - there have already been very many 2020 movies which are a lot worse. Ok, Daniel Radcliffe does have an inconsistent South African accent but that does not detract from a true story adaptation which is underscored by suspense throughout.
Radcliffe plays Tim Jenkin, a white African National Congress activist who was jailed with his "partner-in-crime", Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) during the apartheid-era. They were branded terrorists and imprisoned in Pretoria's maximum-security complex which was dubbed the white man's Robben Island. From the outset, despite the obvious difficulties of endless locked doors and a psychopath sniper guard, both men vow to escape. They are joined in this unlikely enterprise by a French inmate (Mark Leonard Winter) and so begins an 18-month operation to defeat the cruel guards who abuse them, physically and mentally.
Almost the entire movie is set in jail and most of it on one wing, prompting the viewer to sense the claustrophobia of the men who have been incarcerated for a cause. Their only potential method of escape is to carve key copies from wood from the prison workshop and somehow keep them out of sight of wardens who regularly search their cells. Their persistence would be enthralling even if this was entirely fiction but, apparently, it is a close representation of what actually happened. Their desperation to escape was inspired by the desire to stand up to an abhorrent regime during which white people did and said unspeakable things to and about anyone with a different coloured skin or those who supported the oppressed. Mrs W and I couldn't get our heads around the notion that some of those hateful people could still be around today. I would be fascinated to know what they would make of Francis Annan's movie. We can only hope they would be utterly ashamed.
Meanwhile, Jenkin and Lee can hold their heads high. Did you know? Tim Jenkin later wrote that he had "grown up a 'normal’ complacent white South African" who "unthinkingly accepted the system and for twenty-one years never questioned it" The final word. Tim Jenkin: "He (Daniel Radcliffe) asked me what South Africa was like under apartheid and I had to explain to him, and he took it all in because you can’t really pick up from the script or from the book — you really had to be there.”