Dominic Savage’s The Escape tells the story of an unhappy young woman imprisoned by middle-class suburban family life – domesticity, routine and isolation are choking her. Struggling to embrace her role as wife and mother she begins to acknowledge just how trapped she feels. She realises she wants more from her life. Her name’s only mentioned a couple of times in the film as though it’s been lost – her role is ‘Mummy’ before ‘Tara’. Tara is skilfully played by Gemma Arterton, who communicates her loneliness and depression well.
Her mum dismisses her unhappiness as normal and transient, advising her to get on with it. She insinuates Tara’s spoiled and that her life, at 30, is set – it’s too late to rethink. Her husband Mark (played by Dominic Cooper) handles her emotions boorishly and can’t understand her misery either, as from his perspective, she has everything she needs. He struggles to read her emotions at all, barely noticing her total detachment during sex.
All of the dialogue was improvised on set, giving the family scenes a jarring rawness that can prove hard to watch. In one scene, Tara loses it with her kids, screaming: You’re fucking idiots! An untempered display of fury, followed by deep shame. You want to look away – it’s rare to see a woman on screen lose control with her children so severely.
Tara craves art and culture to add colour to her life so suggests taking up an evening class. Mark feels threatened by this, exposing their different needs. He feels emasculated by the idea that she needs something he can’t provide, that exists outside of family life. Ultimately this is what forces them apart. Tara’s a creative soul, needing inspiration and adventure outside the confines of her marriage, while Mark’s aspirations are more traditional and domestic.
When Tara’s unhappiness peaks and she leaves, Mark’s reaction is emotional and desperate. Leaving in the morning before the school run shows their carefully orchestrated family life is fragile – without both of them playing their roles it collapses. There’s so much pressure on both of them to just carry on. Tara’s misery is clear, but Mark alludes to the idea he’s not completely satisfied with his role either – exhausted, but chained to work as the breadwinner for the family.
There are hints of French arthouse cinema about The Escape, with its elemental plot and slow pace. It’s clearly split into two very different parts – before and after Tara leaves. The second part of the film is accompanied by melancholic piano music, giving it a romanticised dreamlike quality. And Tara’s experiences in Paris mirror this dreaminess – meeting a photographer in an art gallery, kissing in the rain and being rescued by a kind stranger felt a little trite.
Philippe, the photographer (Jalil Lespert) focuses his complete attention on her, taking her picture and making her feel beautiful, a clear contrast to how she felt at home. Both claim to be single, both seeking escape. But a call from his wife ends the dreamlike affair, jolting them back into reality, forcing Tara to confront her crushing guilt.
What sets The Escape apart is its still-taboo portrayal of a woman leaving her family in search of self-fulfillment. It wouldn’t have the same impact if the gender roles were reversed. A woman choosing freedom, escape and herself goes against all of our societal expectations of what a mother should do. It makes for a thought-provoking watch.
The Escape is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. And if you enjoyed this, you’ll love Puzzle, which follows a suburban mother who discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles, unexpectedly draws her into a new world.