In The Escape, Gemma Arterton plays Tara – a mother and wife who's rarely allowed to be much more than just that. She's got a permanent frown and carries the weight of her two children and blindly insensitive husband (played by an ignorant, brilliant Dominic Cooper) with every difficult step. Desperate for a way out, a prospectus for an art class gets Tara dreaming about bigger, brighter things. The Eurostar flag blowing in the wind gives a pretty obvious clue to where she might end up.
Director Dominic Savage takes on the arduous task of capturing the pain of loveless, selfish marriage and difficult motherhood with a close-up snapshot of an 'ordinary woman' – as plainly described in the official description. Arterton brings said woman to life with visceral pain and believable angst, drawing the deepest frustrations from everyday hiccups.
So much of the film is told through the actor's body language. Pursed lips, hunched shoulders, slightly shaking hands, Arterton is heartbreaking. Exhausted but never flat, Tara is always tired. When she's too afraid to speak and never supported by those she needs the most, she maintains a watchable sadness that makes it difficult to look away.
On her own, she stares emptily and yearns for something more exciting. Unfortunately, the film rarely allows any sign of respite for her, as The Escape trudges along for much longer than the promise of an 'extraordinary decision' that the one-line synopsis might entail. It seems like Savage isn't in much of a rush to get her anywhere.
But before the main event, there is a lot of interesting potential in Tara's warring anxieties at home. The lack of understanding from her husband and ongoing frustration with her young children offers a glimpse of what could be getting her down, even though this doesn't necessarily give anyone the results they deserve.
Sex without intimacy can lead to nightmarish, sensationalist scenarios onscreen so it's a relief to see such a struggle depicted with care and accuracy, without losing sight of its gravity. Lacklustre parenting and the minefield it entails garnered a dreamlike depiction in Tully earlier this year, and here these circumstances give Arterton a career-best moment; of sheer terror when pushed to her limits by her kids who just want to play.
But there's no karma for Tara, no reward for her struggle or for her bravery. It feels unfair that the scripted solution to her life lies in a runaway pipe dream, denying any sign of help or compassion from friends, family – or anyone else she may have sacrificed her own happiness for, at one point or another in her difficult day-to-day.
It's an arduous, at times repetitive watch that teases extraordinary events without letting anyone live up to them. Through conversations about courage that never manifests, creativity that's limited to cutaway shots of sunsets and an upsetting, mundane existence that just goes round in circles, a fleeting foreign romance feels like a cheap exit for a woman who is worth much more.
|What||The Escape film review|
03 Aug 18 – 03 Aug 19, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|