ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"Escape from Pretoria" Movie Review

Updated on March 10, 2020
popcollin profile image

Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life, he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

Escape from Pretoria
Escape from Pretoria | Source

With all the impactful and important films that have been produced documenting the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa (Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), it’s borderline-incredible that none have been made telling the story of Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee. The two white South Africans were arrested in the late 70s for promoting the African National Congress and the rights of blacks in their own country (back when you could be jailed for handing out brochures) and were imprisoned for 12 and 8 years respectively.

Now writer-director Francis Annan is bringing their story to life—along with that of French sympathizer Alex Moumbaris—by relating their struggles to formulate and carry out a plan to escape from Pretoria Central Prison in 1979. (No spoiler alert needed. It’s right there in the title.)

Daniel Radcliffe continues to shed the last vestiges of his decade-plus as Harry Potter, anchoring the film as Jenkin, a scruffy activist who planted a series of harmless leaflet bombs with Lee in Johannesburg before being nabbed by police. Immediately upon arriving in jail, the two begin planning their escape and then proceed to undertake a long and meticulous operation that will eventually come to involve crafting dozens of keys from wood in the prison’s shop. The process takes the men well over a year, which Annan wisely chronicles by periodically popping up an on-screen reminder of how many days of incarceration have passed as key events take place.

Escape from Pretoria’s finest moments come as Jenkin and Lee try (and often fail) to align the stars in exactly the right way required to make the escape a reality. There is, of course, no shortage of trial and error—the remnants of which would instantly tip off the guards to the scheme’s existence—which means the film takes on the familiar angst of a prison escape movie. This is particularly true in the nerve-wracking third act, when Radcliffe shines brightest. Perfectly cast, his resounding performance as Jenkin elevates the white-knuckle film from what could well have been a short shelf-life as a direct-to-VHS-style misfire.

The film's only flaw is the near evaporation of the anti-Apartheid storyline from almost the outset. If not for the film’s all-too-brief prologue, which includes gut-wrenching news footage of actual 1970s protests, there’s precious little to distinguish it from, say, The Shawshank Redemption, Papillon or any other “prison flick”. It’s not a fatal flaw by any means but could have given the film even more gravitas and real-world relevance. As it is, Escape from Pretoria still succeeds virtually across the board as both a critical teaching moment and a cinematic thriller, shedding well-deserved light on a small but inspirational chapter of world history.


4.5/5 stars

'Escape from Pretoria' trailer


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)