Gemma Arterton gives a remarkable performance as a woman who breaks free from a miserable marriage.
Earlier this year, Charlize Theron delivered a knockout performance in Tully, where she played a mother-of-three in a warts-and-all film unmasking the grimmer aspects of parenthood.
It’s natural to see thematic similarities between Jason Reitman’s palatable comedy and The Escape: another gripping tale detailing the experiences and struggles of women today. However, there’s not a speck of humour on this occasion.
Instead, Gemma Arterton – who serves as executive producer as well as lead actress – fronts a bleak but mesmerising story of a wife and mother devastated by the emptiness of her life.
Arterton plays Tara, though we don’t learn this until she’s picking up a one-way ticket to Paris.
Up until this point she is solely referred to as ‘babe’ and ‘mummy,’ living only to cook dinner, transport her two children to and from school, and reluctantly submit to her husband Mark’s (Dominic Cooper) sexual advances every morning.
Arterton’s performance is utterly majestic from start to finish. Her glassy-eyed despair cuts you to the core and every look and move she makes is thoughtful yet effortlessly delivered, particularly during the harrowing sex scenes and shocking, but understandable, outbursts regarding her children.
She - quite rightly - steals the show, however, Cooper also thrives in his gritty role as the self-obsessed, oblivious husband.
Arterton makes it quite impossible not to sympathise with Tara’s situation, but Cooper’s emotive performance still manages to evoke love in spite of the tragedy and stops Mark from being painted as the villain of the piece.
Mark is a selfish and sometimes aggressive partner while Tara commits the ultimate taboo by abandoning her family.
However, director Dominic Savage ensures that no judgment is placed on either character, while striking the perfect balance between reality and drama thanks to clever camera work, the effective use (and lack) of sound, and the trust he places in his talented actors to improvise to great effect.
As well as tugging on the heartstrings, it’s a visually pleasing work rich in colour and symbolism, which is particularly striking when dreary Kent is traded in for the bright lights of Paris.
Swiss actress Marthe Keller and French actor Jalil Lespert make up the supporting cast across the channel, and both add significant value by guiding Tara in her journey while also posing important questions about the realities of marriage.
The Escape may not be for everyone in that it is very much driven by character development as opposed to a zippy cinematic plot.
But once you’re a fly on the wall of this stunning piece of social commentary, anyone with an ounce of empathy will be moved by The Escape, a story which both resonates and devastates.
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