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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Escape from Pretoria is a gripping, but tense, and sometimes, violent prison break movie based on real-life events, starring Daniel Radcliffe. It is set in apartheid-era South Africa and deals with political issues and themes of racism. The movie is dark and intense, with much of the runtime involving hushed conversations and high-tension sequences, though there are also moments of lightness and hope. Characters also demonstrate positive character strengths such as courage, teamwork, perseverance, compassion, and integrity. There is aggressive language and swearing -- including "s--t" and "pr--k" -- as well as some racist language. Violent scenes include beatings, shootings, bombs, and footage of real dead bodies. Prisoners are bullied and compared to women when they show signs of weakness. There are also few actual female characters.
What's the story?
In ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA, two young white South Africans, Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber), fight to abolish apartheid in 1970s Johannesburg. They undertake covert work on behalf of anti-apartheid organizations, including the African National Congress (ANC). Jenkin -- referred to as the "white Mandela" -- is wanted by the government and eventually imprisoned alongside Lee for producing and distributing anti-apartheid pamphlets. Locked up in Pretoria Central Prison, the pair befriend a third inmate, Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter). Together they hatch a plan to execute one of the most infamous prison escapes of all time.
Is it any good?
Based on true events adapted from Jenkin's book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria, the movie is directed with a real sense of urgency and tension that has you on the edge of your seat. Jenkin himself was present on set during much of the filming, which is sure to have helped give the movie an authentic feel. The story would seem preposterous had it not happened in real life, yet the gritty, intense performances -- particularly from Radcliffe in another interesting role that distances him further from his Harry Potter roots -- make every second feel real. Quiet and still, scenes of Jenkin, Lee, and Fontaine testing the keys in the stolen moments between warden patrols is a lesson in building tension, holding the audience's attention (and breath) as sweat literally drips down the actors' necks.
The plan is ingenious yet so unlikely. Every intricate pencil drawing, piece of chewing gum stuck precariously on the end of a broomstick, and fragile wooden key entering a steel lock feels like it deserves a prize for engineering -- each tiny victory filmed with a real-time urgency that leaves the heart thumping. The level of violence offers a glimpse into the brutality of the apartheid regime without glamorizing or stylizing it, while the costumes and settings -- as well as the surprisingly natural South African accents from British, American, and Australian actors -- expertly realize the time and place. The film manages to avoid a story of white saviors by acknowledging their privilege amid a racist regime, resulting in a tense and confidently made film that falls somewhere between drama, thriller, and war movie -- yet deserves a place among the best of all three.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of the apartheid regime as depicted in Escape from Pretoria. How was it eventually overthrown?
Discuss other instances of racism that you have witnessed in real life or in the news? How do you discuss the news with your kids?
Discuss the violence in the movie. How did you feel knowing that the movie is based on real events? Did it make the violence feel more shocking?
How did you feel about the journey of the central characters? What made you root for them to succeed? What did you think of the character of Tim Jenkin? What character strengths did he show?
- In theaters: March 6, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: April 7, 2020
- Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, Daniel Webber
- Director: Francis Annan
- Studio: Momentum Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Activism
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, language and some disturbing material
- Last updated: April 07, 2020
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