I know, I know, this is usually what happens during the week of a big Marvel release, but I’m sorry guys, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to go and see Ant-Man And The Wasp! I saw and liked the first instalment for what it was, but honestly it feels like about thirteen different Marvel properties have come out since then and I just can’t keep up. So, as the age old tradition dictated, as hordes of movie goers were heading in to the big screens to drink up all the superhero goodness, I entered the tiny screen five at my local multiplex to catch the latest, quiet, unassuming, barely fan-fared British indie offering.
The Escape tells the story of Tara (Gemma Arterton), a wife and stay at home mother who is desperately, visibly unhappy with her life and circumstances. Finding little sympathy from her deliberately ignorant and in denial husband Mark (Dominic Cooper), the narrative follows Tara as she suffers with a lack of motivation or creative outlet, and as things hit breaking point, she makes the spur of the moment decision to pack a bag and walk out of the family home.
Sometimes, when I’m watching a characteristically raw British drama like this, I can’t help but wonder whether in the mission for realism, grit and authenticity, the filmmakers forget to make things cinematic for the sake of the audience. The Escape is a striking story of misery, depression and the notion of trying to rekindle missed opportunity, but the fact of the matter is that whilst it is certainly raw, and upsetting, and a mirror to certain sections of society, it just isn’t that enjoyable to watch. And by enjoyable, I don’t mean that a film has to be happy clappy and saccharine. Apostasy, for example, the last film I review, another sombre British drama, covered ground (albeit in a different context), but the energy and intrigue in that narrative made for a much more engrossing viewing experience.
It is a very quiet, apprehensive film. I don’t know anything about the director’s methods, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he encouraged lots of improvisation in scenes. The dialogue feels real, and much of the time you feel almost like a fly on the wall, and whilst I enjoy the concept, it does feel like the film is somewhat unpolished as a result. The themes of being stuck in a problematic marriage, not having the connection to your children that you think you should, being forced to conform to societal relationship and gender norms, all of these are themes that I take an interest in, but for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, perhaps pacing, perhaps performances, perhaps the unpolished dialogue, The Escape just doesn’t resonate with my in the way that I hoped it would.
As Tara, the bulk of Gemma Arterton’s performance is in the deadness of her eyes and the tension that boils just beneath the surface of her exterior, and on the whole she does a great job. It’s almost painful to watch her go about her daily routine with such little enthusiasm for her life, the regular and most unwanted sex scenes being a particular memorable and unsettling motif. It isn’t a role that requires much fireworks, but I certainly believed Arterton in her sadness, and in her determination to escape, even if only briefly, when the time came.
As husband Mark, Dominic Cooper shows us a shockingly accurate and all too common in real life representation of a husband who simply doesn’t care to indulge in caring for his wife beyond the very minimum. He is villainous, not in a particularly overtly abusive way, there are no beatings, for example, but his lack of compassion or interest in his wife’s clearly deteriorating mental state is enough to make one’s blood boil. The filmmakers attempt to show his side of suffering in small glimpses at key moments, but if they were looking to evoke sympathy from the audience, they certainly didn’t get it from me. As a pair, the two actors share an award on screen chemistry that is clearly perfect for the circumstances of their characters. One of the rare cases when you are looking for a duo to be uncoordinated in order to achieve the desired effect.
Overall, The Escape is not a bad film by any means, but perhaps one that is too quiet and introspective for its own good. Gemma Arterton shines amidst the slightly below par dialogue, giving the audience a real beacon of interest as the narrative progresses, but as I said, I can’t tell you that this is a rewarding cinematic experience, because it feels too low key to be described in such a way.