REVIEW: The Escape Artist Part 3 - Justice Prevails?

Earlier this year in the BBC drama The Politician’s Husband, David Tennant played MP Aiden Hoynes, a man who discovered that he would stoop to any depths to regain what he had lost professionally. The final episode of David Wolstencroft’s tense thriller The Escape Artist begins with another Tennant character about to find himself in similar straits as beleaguered defence lawyer Will Burton, his life already in shreds, finds himself let down by profession that he had hitherto ruled.

The episode opened on an undoubted Hitchcockian motif: claustrophobic shots of caged birds in murder suspect Liam Foyle’s living room, reminding us, perhaps, to expect any twist and turn over the ensuing hour. Foyle (Toby Kebbell) is back in the dock, this time accused of the murder of Will’s wife Kate. But Will can only sit and watch with growing horror as his main court rival Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) makes this her moment to shine. He sees his own legal tricks and refutations played out before him and feels the same pain and dismay as the loved ones of victims whose killers his blind passion to win had turned loose in his past. In the opening minutes of the episode, Foyle walks free and Will loses all faith in his profession.

It’s here where Will takes a key decision and chooses to walk a darker path. It’s perhaps not that credible that a highly professional Oxford-educated individual might choose the solution that Will does, but in a very little time he has indulged in some dalliance with known criminals before retreating to the coast to drink, stab limpets with a penknife and to plot his own justice for Foyle.  

For those expecting a frenzied last minute showdown between the killer and the wronged man, Foyle’s demise comes relatively early in proceedings. The outcome definitely requires some suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer: not only for Foyle to have a convenient rare allergy, but also for the other elements required for Will’s plan to work to fall so neatly into place: the remote cottage, the shifty criminal contacts, the source of the allergen, the source of another epi-pen… However, two things redeem all of the unlikely circumstances. The first is the writing. Yes, the plot is arguably implausible and overblown in places, but no-one can deny that it is also clever and inventive. How many viewers saw those twists coming? Just as notable are the consistently high-class performances from the entire cast. Toby Kebbell is deliciously creepy as twice-freed murderer Foyle, Sophie Okonedo convinces as the wavering Maggie and Stephen Wight definitely deserves mention as the loyal Danny Monk. But David Tennant’s performance raises the series from what could easily be overblown melodrama to something quite sublime. From his boggling, breathless terror as he occupies a pub toilet mere feet from his quarry, to the raw emotion of his eulogy to his late wife, to his poker face as he listens to Maggie unravelling the means by which he dispatched Foyle, he doesn’t falter. In a year of significantly high profile projects, The Escape Artist is yet another jewel in his crown.

So, what have we learned from this tale of changing fortunes and revenge? Well, it’s probably not a good idea to get on the wrong side of David Tennant if you have a seafood allergy, for a start. But aside from that it’s the unsettling thought that what we believe to be justice is nothing of the sort if the act of winning is held more highly than the actual punishment of guilt. However, the alternative, demonstrated here, is more horrific. As we leave Will we do so with the echo of Foyle's words to him during their first meeting: “You know, it’s funny. The more time we spend together, the more you remind me of me.” 

The Escape Artist is released on DVD on Monday 18th November. Pre-order your copy here