Starring David Tennant, Sophie Okonedo, and Toby Kebbell, The Escape Artist is anything but lightweight.
Starting out humorously enough, the life of Will Burton, junior barrister, Number One, and strong contender for Queen’s Counsel (aka silk*), takes a sudden but steady decline into the catastrophic. He’s never lost a case — names like Houdini and ‘escape artist’ come to mind. But already Will has doubts. As he says: ‘everyone deserves a defence.’ However, not everyone deserves to get back out on the street. Will knows that, among all those that he kept from going to prison, many would have, in fact, deserved to serve time. That’s just the odds of being a barrister.
But for Will, life is about to become much harder than that. When he is compelled to accept the case of the Crown v. Liam Foyle, he lets himself in for a world of pain. Even though Will manages to get Foyle acquitted due to reasonable doubt, Foyle knows that Will thinks he’s guilty. And thus, m’lord, begins the hunt.
As a diversion, Foyle lodges a complaint against Will that might shoot his Silk application to hell — except that’s the least of his problems now. It only serves as a way of keeping Will out of the way. The tension and suspense are already ramped up when Foyle suddenly appears at the bathroom window at the cottage, scaring the living daylights out of Will’s (newly pregnant) wife Kate (Ashley Jensen); but the real shock comes when Will arrives at the cottage to find her murdered and their son, Jamie, hiding in a trunk. It’s like being doused with ice cold water when, suddenly, our protagonist’s life is turned upside down for good. No doubt is left as to the identity of the killer when Will turns and finds Foyle staring at him. Fast-forwarding through the aftermath, we see Will Burton’s polished exterior swept away.
That is the foundation upon which the remaining two episodes of this mini-series will base their traction. With Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) defending Foyle this time around, it’s not about whether he will get out — it’s about what he’ll do when he does. He won’t stop before he’s completely destroyed Will’s life, no matter what the cost — and not just his. Everyone who associates with him is in danger, and if Will’s warnings are to be heeded, Maggie’s going to be next. We can already see it bearing down on her.
The acting from lead and supporting cast is to the point and stellar — I’ll very much enjoy watching David Tennant confirm Foyle’s assertion that he and Burton aren’t so very different after all. Sophie Okonedo is going to kill it as Maggie, and Toby Kebbell plays the creepy murderer with gusto, but with such cold subtlety, it’s marvellous — a lunatic’s smile works so much better when the rest of his bearing is understated.
David Wolstencroft has created a script that takes a bit to get going, but then sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. The next two episodes are going to be a race against time and a psychopathic killer. Now that Liam Foyle is on the hunt, there’s no way out.
Next: Part II.
* Not to be confused with the BBC series of the same name — although the two are filmed in the same court building…
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