The Escape (4 stars)

The Escape

Gemma Arterton is heartbreaking in this thoughtful and uncompromising domestic drama

The more Gemma Arterton eschews the big-budget blockbuster movies of her early career, the more she finds roles that bring out the depth and range of her talent. The Escape is a solemn, largely improvised drama from writer-director Dominic Savage in which Arterton delicately captures the anguish and buried pain of a woman desperate to escape her daily life.

Tara (Arterton) is so busy caring for others that she is slowly dying inside. Her days are filled with being a wife, a mother and maintaining a beautiful home. Lovemaking with husband Mark (Dominic Cooper) is another duty to be fulfilled, rather than a source of pleasure. The very notion that she might find time to take an art appreciation class is akin to suggesting she is planning a trip to the moon. Nobody tries to understand her, least of all a mother who seems to think that no woman could wish for more than 'two cars and a conservatory'. As Tara grows more withdrawn and depressed, it is blindingly obvious that something has to change.

One of the strengths of The Escape is that it never compromises its intentions. Tara's attitude towards her children risks making her an unsympathetic figure. Mark may be insensitive and oblivious but he is no tyrant. Nobody is entirely hero or villain here, these are just two mismatched people who want very different lives. The situation feels ever more oppressive with cinematographer Laurie Rose underlining the claustrophobia of their physical surroundings.

The Escape is intelligent and thoughtful, refusing easy fixes or happy endings as it captures the raw pain in these scenes from a marriage. There are brief, telling roles for Frances Barber and Marthe Keller but it is a wan, sad-eyed Arterton who breaks your heart as a woman seeking the courage to be true to herself.

Selected release from Fri 3 Aug.

The Escape

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Dominic Savage
  • Cast: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Frances Barber

An ordinary woman (Arterton) makes an extraordinary decision which will change her life forever. An uncompromising, claustrophobic and intelligent domestic drama that refuses any and all easy answers, led by a heartbreaking performance from Arterton.