Sunday, 28 December 2014

If you've let "The Escape Artist" escape, get him back in your clutches

It appals me how I can completely miss a film or series I really shouldn’t have. 

When I say “completely”, I really mean completely: I’d never even heard of The Escape Artist until Amazon decided to recommend it to me, and I thought I might give it a whirl, principally on the basis that I find David Tennant worth watching. Certainly, I liked him as the somewhat manic (desperately ill and, just to make sure we’ve missed none of the potential pathos, bereaved) detective inspector in Broadchurch, opposite a stunningly good Olivia Colman as his sergeant.

You didn’t see Broadchurch? One of the best British police thrillers for years – the first to have learned from the Scandinavians that you don’t need a string of bodies to make a murder drama dramatic, that just one can generate all the suspense you need (“one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”, though I’m not sure many of us would quote Stalin as a movie critic). I strongly recommend you catch up quickly on season 1, especially since season 2 starts next week.

But then get hold of The Escape Artist

Tennant’s not a policeman in this one, but a lawyer, specifically a junior barrister. For those not familiar with the arcane ways of the English legal system, a junior barrister can be a senior lawyer – even an old one – but one who has never “taken silk”, as we quaintly refer to the moment he or she becomes a Queen’s Counsel (strictly speaking, “Queens Counsel learned in the law” – isn’t that great?) , thereby earning a silk gown (no, you don’t have to wait another ten years to get the high heels to go with it). 

David Tennant and still more junior colleague looking good at work
Some years ago I came across a barrister (the cousin of a colleague, if you must know – yes, it’s that kind of story: not quite “a chap in a pub told me” but not far off) who had suffered a nervous breakdown from having successfully defended a rapist who then went on to rape again. It’s clear, and a principle strongly stated in The Escape Artist, that everyone deserves a defence, but it must indeed be hard when someone like David Tennant’s character artfully builds the escape for a man who turns out to be – how shall I put this to avoid spoilers? – let’s just say, no better than he should be.

Incidentally, his turning out to be no better than he should be leads to the first episode ending with some of the tensest TV I’ve seen for years.

Careful: the one on the left may turn out not to be so nice after all
The result is excellent drama, in which we swing from rooting for the defence, to rooting for the prosecution, to ultimately, by a convoluted but gripping route, rooting for perpetration of a serious crime. Brilliant. It's a single–season series, with just three one-hour episodes, making it less long than two decent-length films. We watched it in one sitting: once into it, it’s hard to tear yourself away.

On the way, we even saw how the Scottish legal system differs from the English, not something many people know about. Ever heard of the verdict “not proven”, alongside “guilty” and “not guilty”? They have it in Scotland. No wonder the pressure for independence seems to grow unstoppably – why, they’re so much more subtle in their thinking.

Tennant’s Scots, as it happens. And gives a great performance in The Escape Artist. Not to be missed.

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