Escape from Pretoria

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Escape from Pretoria
Escape from Pretoria film poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrancis Annan
Written by
  • Francis Annan
  • L.H. Adams
Based onInside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison
by Tim Jenkin
Produced by
  • Mark Blaney
  • Jackie Sheppard
  • David Barron
  • Michelle Krumm
  • Gary Hamilton
CinematographyGeoffrey Hall
Edited byNick Fenton
Music by David Hirschfelder
Distributed bySignature Entertainment
Release date
  • 6 March 2020 (2020-03-06)(United Kingdom)
Running time
106 minutes
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
Box office$2.4 million

Escape from Pretoria is a 2020 Australian prison film co-written and directed by Francis Annan, based on the real-life prison escape by three political prisoners in South Africa in 1979, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber. It is based on the 2003 book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin, one of the escapees.


It was filmed in Adelaide, South Australia, in early 2019, both on location in the city and suburbs and in the Glenside studios of the South Australian Film Corporation. [3] [4]


In 1979, Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee are two white South Africans carrying out anti-apartheid missions in South Africa. They are arrested and prosecuted; Jenkin is sentenced to twelve years and Lee is sentenced to eight. At the courthouse Lee attempts to escape but to no avail. Transported to Pretoria Prison, they meet Denis Goldberg, an older political prisoner serving four life sentences for previous work against apartheid. He shows them the ropes but discourages them from trying to escape.

Jenkin and Lee discuss escaping with another prisoner, Leonard Fontaine. They settle in and go about their daily routines, but Jenkin starts to analyze the prison and think of ways to escape. He steals items from the wood shop to make wooden keys that fit the locks to their cells. He sneaks around the prison at night, making keys for other locks. Lee and Jenkin bury these keys in the prison garden while tending it and make many other preparations for their escape.

Fontaine and Jenkin do a test run by using keys to leave their cells. They hide in a closet as the night guard walks by. They use another key to leave the cell block, but they have to run back to their cells before they can use another key. The guards search everyone's cells the next day but fail to find anything. Later, Jenkin discovers that a new gun tower is being built. He, Fontaine and Lee present their plan to Goldberg and other prisoners who decide against trying to escape with them.

Jenkin, Lee and Fontaine execute their plan. They gather keys hidden in various areas and change into previously smuggled street clothes. Once again, they hide in the closet to evade the night guard. Unexpectedly, the night guard comes back to the closet. Goldberg short-circuits the light in his cell, causing the electricity to go out and calls for the guard, distracting him so that the trio can reach the last door. They cannot get any of the keys to work on this door, but Fontaine breaks it open using a chisel and screwdriver. They leave the prison and find a taxi to take them out of Pretoria. We learn that they reached London by way of Mozambique and Tanzania, that they continued to fight apartheid and that Goldberg was finally freed in 1985.



The film was written and directed by Francis Annan. [5] The film is an Australia-UK co-production, co-financed by Arclight Films, New York-based Magna Entertainment and with the assistance of the South Australian Film Corporation. [6] Sam Neill was originally cast as Goldberg, in May 2017. [7]

Filming commenced on location in Adelaide, South Australia, in March 2019, with some scenes being shot at Mitcham railway station and others in the centre of the city, in Pirie Street. [3] [8] Jenkin spent some time in Adelaide, advising Radcliffe on accent and other aspects of the film, as well as playing as an extra, playing a prisoner next to Radcliffe in the visiting room. [9]

The film contains two pieces of music by the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Dies Irae from his Requiem Mass in D minor and the Kyrie from his Mass in C minor. The latter was also featured prominently in a classic prison film, A Man Escaped directed by Robert Bresson.


Escape from Pretoria was released on 6 March 2020 in the United Kingdom by Signature Entertainment and in the United States by eOne and Momentum Pictures. [10] It was released for rental on digital platforms iTunes, Sky Store, Amazon Prime Video and Virgin on the same date, and had a limited cinema release in the UK, US and some other countries. [11] It became available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 20 April 2020. [11]

The film was screened on 11 July 2020 at select cinemas in Adelaide as part of Adelaide Film Festival, after cinemas had just reopened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. [12]


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 73% based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Escape from Pretoria doesn't quite do justice to the fact-based story it's dramatizing, but that lack of depth is offset by suitably gripping jailbreak action." [13] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 56 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". [14]


  1. Not to be confused with the Australian film distribution company, Footprint Films, headed by Australian filmmakers Robert Connolly and John Maynard. [1] [2]

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  1. "About us". Footprint Films. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  2. Campora, Matthew (December 2013). "Disrespectful Indigenisation: The Films of Robert Connolly". Contemporary Australian Filmmakers (69). Retrieved 26 November 2021 via Senses of Cinema.
  3. 1 2 Sutton, Malcolm (13 March 2019). "Adelaide transformed into apartheid-era Cape Town for Escape From Pretoria filming". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  4. "Escape From Pretoria commences production in South Australia (13 March 2018)". South Australian Film Corporation. 13 March 2019. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  5. Deckelmeier, Joe (9 March 2020). "Francis Annan Interview: Escape From Pretoria". ScreenRant. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  6. Kay, Jeremy (11 February 2019). "Daniel Radcliffe prison break thriller 'Escape From Pretoria' hot seller for Arclight (exclusive)". Screen Daily. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  7. Grater, Tom. "Sam Neill joins Daniel Radcliffe in 'Escape From Pretoria'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  8. Polychronis, Gabriel (14 March 2019). "Adelaide's Pirie St transformed into 1978 Cape Town for Daniel Radcliffe's movie Escape from Pretoria". Adelaide Now. The Advertiser. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  9. "Tim's back on the run". Adelaide Confidential. The Advertiser. 29 March 2019. p. 6.
  10. Grater, Tom (13 February 2020). "'Escape From Pretoria' Director Francis Annan Inks With ICM". Deadline Hollywood . Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  11. 1 2 Desborough, Jenny (6 March 2020). "Escape from Pretoria release date, cast, trailer, plot: When is Escape from Pretoria out?". Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  12. Marsh, Walter (8 July 2020). "Down the rabbit hole with Escape From Pretoria director Francis Annan". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  13. "Escape From Pretoria (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes . Fandango . Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  14. "Escape from Pretoria Reviews". Metacritic . CBS Interactive . Retrieved 9 April 2021.

Further reading