The title of Dominic Savage’s gripping drama has the ring of a thriller or a prison break movie. The reality is vastly different. Far closer, in fact, to real life. But thanks to a breathtaking performance from Gemma Arterton as a depressed woman desperate to break from the ‘prison’ of domestic drudgery, ‘The Escape’ hits harder than any musclebound action-adventure.
On the surface, Arterton’s Tara is living the middle-class dream in the suburbs of Kent. Her mum (Frances Barber) certainly thinks so: ‘You got two cars. You got a beautiful house. You got a conservatory. You got it made.’ She’s also got two young kids to look after, no job, no hobbies, no friends and an emotionally inarticulate, nine-to-fiving husband Mark (Dominic Cooper) who thinks one dinner date should stop her ‘sulking’, and whose ‘quickie before work’ is basically a sexual assault.
‘The Escape’ is Arterton’s movie, but as its unthinking passive antagonist, Cooper is impressive too. Mark feels all too familiar: a lager-clutching, polo-shirted alpha whose every utterance is selfish. ‘Saturday, one of my days off and you’re crying,’ he wheedles.
‘Bit weird, isn’t it?’
You understand why Tara feels mired in psychological quicksand. But the film is at its weakest once she does make the break, shifting from sharp-edged, magnolia-walled vérité to something more contrived and clichéd. Even so, Arterton prevails throughout. She’s utterly convincing and downright devastating.