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A superlative performance from Gemma Arterton is at the centre of this almost unbearably painful and sad film from writer-director Dominic Savage. It’s a drama which reminded me of a definition of depression – anger spread very thin – and it points up an age-old hypocrisy of sexual politics. Men quit their marriages all the time. The fact that they have walked out on their kids too is often not immediately held against them. But for a woman to do the same thing is unthinkable. Arterton plays someone in precisely this situation, someone who discovers that marriage, children and a comfortable home, are not enough, or too much. She can’t breathe.
Arterton is Tara, a stay-at-home mum – evidently a decision arrived at with little or no discussion with her old-fashioned husband, Mark: a deeply unsympathetic role, well and forthrightly handled by Dominic Cooper. Mark is well-meaning in some ways, very pleased with himself, infatuated with his beautiful wife and always insisting on his conjugal rights. But he is careless and insensitive, and after sex has a habit of ordering her curtly about and being deeply irritated if things aren’t absolutely right domestically, because he’s out at work all day and she should be sorting out the house because she has nothing to do but lounge around at home. It is a relationship on the verge of abuse.
Tara’s face is a mask of bewilderment, then pain, then quiet self-hate. She gazes past Mark’s back out of the window during sex: something is wrong, but she can’t figure out what. Is this all life is? She mopes, she can’t stop crying, and Mark is wince-inducingly clumsy in the way he handles it, instantly asking if she has met someone else – thus betraying the ugly suspicion that isn’t far from the surface – and then tolerantly saying “C’mere!” with oppressive hugs as if she is just being silly.
Things get even worse when she takes an unscheduled daytrip to London when the kids are at school (all too clearly a dummy run for something more) where she finds an art book about the six medieval Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris. These mysterious images of sensuality, romance and respect speak profoundly to her inner soul. Tara comes back chattering about taking an art class. But Mark, boorish and suspicious, just thinks she is getting above herself and certainly above him. Things go from bad to worse and Tara takes off on the Eurostar to Paris.
The Escape is at its best before the escape. Then the moment-by-moment horror of an unhappy marriage is portrayed with great intelligence, judgment and courage. Savage gets the best from Arterton, and creates long, wordless sequences which put us inside the prison-house routine of Tara’s life. Arterton’s face almost collapses with grief and pain, as if starting to fold in on a fault-line along the bridge of her nose, but then is miraculously restored to beauty with her rare smiles of contentment. When she cries it is doubly agonising because there is no relief in it: she knows it will merely enrage her husband more. It is not his fault he does not understand, and yet it is his failure to understand which is so awful, and in the strangest way it might be worse if he was nice and understanding.
When Tara is in Paris, there is no lessening of dramatic intelligence in the film, but the story becomes a little by-the-book. I’m not sure that her mood would be relieved quite as clearly as it is here, and the situation which unfolds is perhaps a little too good to be true. But there are no wrong notes. This movie reminded me, bizarrely, of something else: the heartless nickname given to Frances Shand Kydd, mother of Diana, the Princess of Wales, after she walked out on her marriage: “the bolter”. She was compared to a horse that wouldn’t submit to discipline and just galloped off. It is sexist and crass, and yet the sheer physicality and rebellion of that image is not entirely wrong. To bolt, to run away in a convulsion of desperate disgust. Freedom is something you have to have right now, no matter what. A great performance from Gemma Arterton.
Source: The Guardian
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