Escape from Pretoria

In 1979 Tim Jenkin, Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris escaped from Pretoria gaol, the ‘white man’s Robben Island’ having been found guilty of acts of terrorism in apartheid South Africa. This film is based on Tim Jenkin’s memoir of this event and, indeed, is so accurate that he was an extra, playing the part of a prisoner.

Young British film-maker Francis Annan, who co-wrote the screenplay, pulls off a taught thriller – always an achievement  even when you know the ending. It took 18 months of meticulous planning using wooden keys painstakingly copied from the originals.

But, nit-picker that I am, several things about the film jarred. Firstly none of the actors was South African – here we have Daniel Radcliffe looking like himself as Tim Jenkin, Daniel Webber (Stephen Lee) is an Australian and British treasure Ian Hart plays ANC hero Denis Goldberg, who was one of the Rivonia trial heroes tried with Mandela. And why invent a completely new character Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter, also Australian), a Frenchman, to replace Moumbaris. Their respective back stories are almost identical.  As a result, the accents are truly appalling. And if that’s not bad enough (I’m sure there are plenty of South African actors out there who would have relished the chance to play these great men) the whole thing is filmed in Adelaide. This takes ‘follow the money’ just too far and removes the shine from what is, on the surface, a good action thriller.

The real Tim Jenkin on Radcliffe’s right?

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