Over the course of two decades of film and television work, writer-director Dominic Savage has perfected a form of improvised cinema. It begins with an idea in which the actors work with the director in exploring the options. Savage’s collaboration with Gemma Arterton, who has three careers in Hollywood (Clash of the Titans, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), Britain (Quantum of Solace, Made in Dagenham, Their Finest) and France (Gemma Bovery, Orpheline, The History of Love), has yielded a three-quarter gem, The Escape. Arterton excels as a young mother, Tara, whose life at home with her breadwinner husband, Mark (Dominic Cooper) stifles her.
Savage really makes you feel how Tara is trapped in the routine of her life: sex on demand, feeding the two children, doing the school and nursery runs and being there for her man. She is under-nourished: culturally, socially and emotionally. On a trip to London, she picks up an art book and becomes obsessed with a tapestry and yearns to take an art class. Mark can’t take it in because their life is it. He has a good job, they have a nice house – sorted. Tara’s ache drives her to the escape of the title.
The Escape feels like two movies and Arterton gives two performances. The first is utterly sympathetic, the second a bit of a cliché. During ‘the escape’, Tara becomes a different person and has a form of adventure, though I can tell you that having recently wandered the streets all night in the city where the last quarter of the film is set, you don’t get befriended by a rich person who takes you home because they see your sadness – not unless it’s transactional. You usually get asked for a cigarette.
The final quarter of The Escape is forgivable because the rest of the film is so good. The scene at a barbecue, or getting the children to eat, or seeing toys everywhere – parents can relate. At one point Tara screams at her young child for touching her art book and although her anger is disproportionate, we see and understand its roots.
Like any good director, Savage does not try to solve the social problem that he depicts. He – and Arterton – are honest about it. Tara doesn’t have friendships that sustain her, people to whom she can turn, though Savage might have included a scene or two to explain this. Savage understands that people whose lives turn into obligations need a release valve to appreciate who they are and to find a form of fulfillment, but it should not be at a cost.
The Escape is out 3rd August!