“If you’re chained up in a safe at the bottom of a shark tank you don’t call for Paul Daniels – you call for Houdini.”
Houdini, in this case, turns out to be expert barrister Will Burton, played by David Tennant, who has never lost a case in defending his clients. The chap chained up, in this instance, is the hugely unlikeable Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), who appears to have committed a rather brutal, sexually-charged murder. Of course, it’s Will’s job to prove he didn’t.
Due to the spoilerific nature of the story, that’s all I’ll say on the story from Spooks creator, David Wolstencroft which deals with the morality of Burton’s job but also the very notions of guilt itself (from this episode, the lines are blurred) whilst creating an intensely entertaining piece of television drama. To be honest, The Escape Artist gets off to a slow start, but I certainly don’t mean that pejoratively. The opening twenty minutes or so give the audience a chance, and a welcome one in the current pace of small screen shows, to engage with numerous characters and try to understand, at least, their thoughts.
Burton’s family are the main focus with a very natural and warm performance from Ashley Jensen (Extras) who plays the loving wife/mother perfectly whilst Tennant puts in another tremendous show, after his brilliant turn in Broadchurch earlier this year. His character is complex and has to deal with the nastier side of his job, face-to-face and also juggles with being the loving husband/dad. It would have been easy to paint him as work-obsessed but writer Wolstencroft is far too canny for that.
Outside the stern and earnest court scene moments, there’s a wonderfully touching moment when the realities of the law, and modern life, get to him. The barrister breaks down on his son’s bed and tearfully rues to his wife, “The world is broken.” Deeply affecting. Will’s honesty in describing his work, “Everyone deserves a defence,”
could seem almost naive but Tennant’s skills portray the veracity of the
statement, even though he has to come to terms with what that very
sentence entails when he defends Foyle.
Actor Toby Kebbell puts in a chilling portrayal of the accused, but it most definitely not your usual murderer (if he is one). Kebbell is sensitive in moments, revealing, “I don’t like people very much. I’m not a very nice person,” whilst also admitting he feels uncomfortable in the presence of certain lawyers. It’s an unnerving and unsettling role, but you’ll be hard pressed, under examination, to identify just why for the most part. Like BBC Two’s The Fall earlier this year, the “baddie” can also be a good, intelligent and sensitive person.
The Escape Artist, like the aforementioned Broadchurch and The Fall, will be one of those shows that everyone talks about as it darts from surprise to revelation to shock with its first class cast and script. Be advised, don’t miss it on transmission.
BLOGTOR RATING 9/10
The Escape Artist, Episode One airs Oct 29 at 9pm on BBC One