Film Review: The Escape
There’s a scene in The Escape in which Tara (Gemma Arterton), a mother of two small children and living in suburbia, takes herself into the centre of London for the day. Standing on Waterloo Bridge, she’s basking in the sunlight, noisy traffic, and busy commuter life. She’s high on freedom.
When her husband Mark (Dominic Cooper) comes home from work that evening, she tells him about her happy jaunt into town. He feigns interest while cracking open a beer; he can’t relate. She tells him through tears that she's had heady thoughts of doing an art course, something for herself. Waves of condescension sweep across on Mark's face. He loves her – as indicated by the morning sex and shoulder kisses – but he doesn’t appreciate her. Especially when she forgets to put fresh towels in the bathroom in the morning.
This is a deeply emotional film about a woman who has fallen out of love with her husband and is suffocating in dealing with the mundane minutiae of motherhood, the relentlessness of domestic routine. The tragedy is that she gives so much and feels so little, drowning in a depression that her husband, friends and mother can't comprehend. After the kitchen clean, the supermarket shop and school pick up, Tara’s on her knees at home trying to coax a connection from her 6-year-old son: “Go on, tell me you love me”. But he squirms out of her hold, runs off, and leaves her amid the scattered Lego on the floor.
Tara finds it increasingly hard to breathe. The air is slowly crushed out for us all so that when the tipping point comes we’re running – leaping – out the door with her, passport in hand. After a frenzied purchase of a Eurostar ticket at Ebbsfleet station, we're suddenly on the glittering streets of Paris and its leafy boulevards. Finally: we find oxygen. It’s the chance encounters in this foreign city that prompt an awakening in Tara and a cataclysmic shift in her life - one that will prompt shock and debate from viewers. We want her to be happy, but there is no painless way to achieve that wish.
Gemma Arterton is barefaced and raw in this role, the camera lingering close up on her face as she dives into deep, silent despair. Dominic Cooper shows us a complexity to the character of Mark, at once loathsome for missing the neon-painted signals, but also pitiful as he desperately tries to mould his wife back into being his mate. Skilful writer/director Dominic Savage likes the scenes to be partially improvised, so there's a fly-on-the-wall truth to it all. Underpinned as it is by a wistful piano score, it’s hard not to be emotionally wrung out by this drama. There's a serious mental health issue being examined here, but for any mother who has sacrificed her freedom for family and selflessly scrubbed away the breakfast debris for the umpteenth time, there’s catharsis, too.