On the surface, Tara seems to have everything any mother and wife could ever want; two young children, an attentive husband, a beautiful house, two cars and financial security. With her husband earning enough money to support them both, Tara’s days are spent getting the children to and from the local primary school, tending to the house and wheeling an overfilled trolley from the checkout to her car. Yet just beneath the surface is an overwhelming unhappiness which consumes Tara, impacting on her marriage, her children and herself. Dominic Savage’s The Escape is a devastating feature debut, asking big questions about where the self goes when you are absorbed into marriage and motherhood. A fraught relationship with her children and a stale marriage made unbearable for Tara by her husband’s constant sexual advances and brief, blunt encounters, is suffocating Tara. When the problem is addressed, Tara begins to seek out the freedom and personal expression she so desperately craves. What begins as the possibility of taking an evening art course soon grows into her fleeing the family home in an attempt to save herself from the prison of her responsibility and the patriarchal expectations thrust upon her. The Escape was heavily improvised, with Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper capturing the frustrations and miscommunications that come with the collapse of happiness in a relationship. A woman’s inherent need for both freedom and security are explored intimately as we witness a mother and wife constricted by such labels which society still dictates we should strive for.
Arterton’s performance is intense and fragile, always on the brink of tears; a character consumed by ongoing anxiety and depression. The camera is never far from her face, capturing every lump in her throat, every darting of the eyes and each hidden tear that seeps into the pillowcase. Both Arterton and Cooper give their most complex, raw performances to date in a compelling depiction of a problematic but far from loveless marriage. Arterton herself was at the forefront of leading the UK Film Industry’s responsive support of the #MeToo movement at this year’s BAFTA’s. In line with this, she now brings something to the screen that I don’t recall having seen anywhere else in cinema to date, consensual sexual assault within a marriage. Cooper’s Mark works long hours in what we’re lead to believe is a high pressure career. Unlike cinematic cliches before him, he is loving and attentive towards his wife whom he clearly loves and respects. Yet, there is an unchallenged frequent and consistent sexual expectation from Mark which Tara seemingly endures rather than enjoys. Their physical encounters lack emotion as the camera catches Tara’s expressions of insufferable tolerance, her body tense and giving off no signs of pleasure. It’s never entirely clear whether Mark is shockingly oblivious to his wife’s lack of pleasure or simply ignorant to the vital importance of it when considering just how consensual each engagement is. Throughout the film, Savage’s camera often blurs out the background, with a crisp visual of Arterton in the centre of the frame; gorgeous visual symbolism of how Arterton sees her own claustrophobic environment. The beautiful camera work is equalled by a stirring score, as devastating as the story at the film’s centre. The Escape is a distressing depiction of desperation and the heart-wrenching decisions some of us must make in order to save ourselves.
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