Join Soundtrack Stream to Research the article “The Escape review – Gemma Arterton excels as desperate housewife | Drama films”
She has a name. But somewhere along the way it has eroded, along with her identity and sense of self. Now she answers to “Babe” and “Mummy”. And when things get really bad, she’s “Stupid Mummy”. It’s not until the deeply unhappy 30-year-old wife and mother (a revelatory Gemma Arterton, every gesture weighted with muted anguish) breaks character in this play-acted game of happy families that we finally learn that she is called Tara.
As British domestic dramas go, this is not so much kitchen sink, more bespoke designer kitchen experience, all sophisticated dark woods and fully wipeable surfaces. Tara, as her mother (Frances Barber) wastes no time in pointing out, has it all. A husband with a good job. Two cars. Two children. A nice house. “A conservatory”: the word, loaded with simmering resentment, lands like a punch. But the bright smile that Tara paints on, along with her YSL Touche Éclat concealer, is a mask. Tara is sinking. She can’t connect with her children or her husband (Dominic Cooper). She’s a stay-at-home mum and a housewife. But as she chafes against the soul-sapping daily routine and crushing dullness of laundry management and toddler wrangling, she increasingly feels like the prison guard of her own blandly tasteful suburban jail.
Her husband Mark doesn’t see the tears she sheds after each unilateral bout of lovemaking. But it’s unlikely he would understand if he did. Mark is the kind of man who insists that his own needs be met, but can’t comprehend that his wife might have requirements of her own. That’s not all he has trouble reading. “Are you laughing or crying? I can’t work it out.” He stares at her heaving back, genuinely perplexed. When he does finally grasp that something is taking the shine off his trophy wife, he seems more concerned with how her melancholy will affect his comfort than with Tara’s desolation. Aggrieved, he goes on the offensive. “Look at it from my point. It’s Saturday, one of my only days off, and you’re crying.” While not exactly physically abusive, Mark is physically present in a way that constantly overlaps with his wife’s personal space. A hand on her arm denotes ownership rather than comfort.
Directed by Dominic Savage and executive-produced by Arterton, The Escape’s screenplay was developed by Savage after extensive improvisation. The result is the kind of stinging emotional candour that makes you wince. Savage uses mirrors and distorted multiple reflections to underline the disconnection between Tara’s reality and the life she hoped for. The camera clings to her; like Tara’s husband, it’s constantly getting in her face, a face which is blank with the effort of silencing the mounting panic. She drops off her children at nursery and then gasps, great gulping breaths like a drowning woman; she sighs into the parsnips; readjusts her ornaments as if there’s some as yet undiscovered configuration of knick-knacks that will make everything OK.
The film’s score takes two approaches. A throbbing musical migraine captures Tara’s stabbing anxiety brilliantly. Less effective is the mournfully melodic cello and piano, a TV-movie stock accompaniment that feels like unnecessary decoration on the spare economy of these scenes from a failing marriage.
The escape, when it finally comes, is anything but escapist. Distraught, Tara abandons her husband, kids and the wreckage of breakfast and hops on the Eurostar to Paris. There she creates an alternative self, in a sympathetically lit, culturally rich parallel world. The approach is a kind of social-realist spin on the Shirley Valentine journey to fulfilment, but Savage is not about to let his protagonist have an easy ride. Her fury when she realises that her one-night stand with a charming photographer is based on lies turns inwards once she acknowledges that her deception is equal to his. While Tara may have broken free of her suffocating marriage, she still has to cope with the baggage of guilt that comes with walking out on her children.
And it’s this – the fact that we are asked to sympathise with a mother who, by her own admission, feels nothing for her infants – which is the boldest element in the film. The extreme close-up shots that Savage favours magnify the subtle work of Arterton’s performance. We can’t argue with the authenticity of her pain. Still, we can’t help but recoil when she lashes out at her kids, calling them “fucking idiots”. This movie is not a comfortable experience. It’s jarring, angular: the film-making equivalent of stepping barefoot on discarded Lego bricks.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Escape review – Gemma Arterton excels as desperate housewife | Drama films