Daniel Radcliffe escapes from Pretoria in new film from Emsworth-based producer

Daniel Radcliffe gives a remarkable performance in the thriller Escape From Pretoria (12A, 104  mins) which is released this week, produced by Emsworth-based Mark Blaney.

Friday, 6th March 2020, 7:54 am
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 7:58 am
Mark Blaney

Radcliffe, known to millions for his Harry Potter years, stars as Tim Jenkin, a real-life ANC activist who was branded a terrorist – and imprisoned in Africa’s maximum-security Pretoria prison in the late 1970s during Apartheid.

Along with two fellow freedom fighters, played by Daniel Webber (The Punisher, The Dirt) and Mark Leonard Winter (The Dressmaker), Tim effected a complex and daring escape on December 11 1979, 18 months into his incarceration, using handcrafted wooden keys.

You might guess the outcome from the film’s title, but Mark is delighted by the artistic success of a film which still manages to be nerve-shredding throughout.

The film, based on Tim Jenkin’s own account, also stars Ian Hart (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) and Stephen Hunter (The Hobbit Trilogy). It was directed by British director Francis Annan and can be seen at independent cinemas and via view on demand from March 6 - including iTunes, Sky Store, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Virgin Media, Xbox etc

For producer Mark, the story goes back to 2003 when he was in Cape Town on another project. An American investigative journalist told him he just had to meet Tim. Mark did so: “Tim looked a little like Woody Allen. He didn’t look like a hero, but after he told me his remarkable true story, I just thought I had to tell this story. Then it just became a question of finding the funding to make the impossible possible.”

The escapees initially made their way to London. The ANC encouraged Tim to write down his story, not as a book, but as a record of what happened. However the ANC had a publishing arm in London, and his story was published in the late 80s, at which point potential film-makers were hovering.

At one point a film was just a couple of weeks away from being made, but the financiers were demanding the politics be dropped in favour of telling the story of an amazing prison break. The producers refused, and the project fell through.

Then Mark started to ponder the idea; the next piece fell into place when he met the film’s director Francis Annan in 2012, by which time Mark had lost the right. He urged Francis to read the book without falling in love with the story. He read it and fell in love with it… and so it became a question of getting those rights back.

The next piece fell into place with Dan Radcliffe coming on board in 2016: “We had a list of people that we were considering.”

But what made Dan so impressive was what he could bring to it of himself.

“When we first sat down in late 2016 and started talking with Dan, we realised this real passion and interest he had for the politics of the story. He knew about that era and its history. We weren’t just talking with someone who was going to give a great performance. We were getting someone who would be really fighting for us in his heart as well, and that’s what makes the difference.”

The film was made in Adelaide in Australia, and Mark admits that it is gutting that they weren’t able to make it in South Africa.

“It’s a real heart-breaker. The intention between 2003 and 2018 was always to film it in South Africa. But we couldn’t get it together financially.

“We had the decision to make where we could go somewhere else where we could tell the story and where we would hope South Africa would forgive us or we hung on for a year to see if we could sort the money to make it in South Africa and then that might be another year and then another year and it might never get made. And the story would never have been told.

“And that was the thinking that took us to Australia.”