5 Reasons to Watch The Escape Artist
David Tennant stars in the new BBC1 suspense thriller The Escape Artist playing Will Burton, the number one barrister in England. His intellect and obsessive nature give him the ability to get out of very tricky legal corners much to the benefit of his defendants and earning him the nickname The Escape Artist.
But when the boy wonder of the criminal courts successfully defends serial killer Liam Foyle, the man walks free. So, cause and effect becomes the central storyline as Will’s fancy footwork in the courtroom has real-world, murderous consequences…
Here are five reasons Flicks and the City thinks The Escape Artist is definitely worth watching:
1. David Tennant
The central character, Will Burton, played by David Tennant is obsessive, intellectual and conflicted, but he is also a provider, father and husband. This gives him tremendous emotional scope. No longer a time lord, Tennant is a man you can relate to in some way, shape or form. At one point he says, “Everyone deserves a defence”, to justify taking on the case of serial killer Liam Foyle, and you want to believe him as much he wants to believe himself.
His relationship with his wife, played by Ashley Jensen, and his son takes viewers on a particularly potent, emotional journey, especially when their life together is turned upside down by twisted killer Foyle. His rivalry with England’s number two barrister, Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), is central to the danger and reminiscent of Tennant’s early Broadchurch rivalry with DS Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman.
2. David Wolstencroft
Written and created by David Wolstencroft, the series is dramatic and, without giving away the story, the creator of Spooks has used the same tactic of violently killing off a lead role early on, except in Spooks he waited two episodes – this time, the heartbreaking loss is in the first episode.
Wolstencroft himself said that, “This was a very personal story for me”, adding, when asked by Flicks And The City, “it was a civil case with my family, and that’s all I can say”. This might explain the emotional scope of the mini-series. There’s a part where Burton says, “the world is broken”, and this might be an insight into Wolstencroft’s psyche around the subject (as well as something David Cameron might appropriate in a re-election campaign). Wolstencroft seems to feel rewarded by his choice of actors, saying about David Tennant in particular, “I would cast him in everything I could”.
I was hooked from the moment I saw Burton start to read the murder case file. As he ponders that “some of these injuries happened whilst she was still alive”, you realise this is psychological too – Foyle the serial killer doesn’t just murder… he tortures. This kind of set-up creates a sense of foreboding; you know from the start The Escape Artist may not emerge unscathed. But it’s not just Burton and his family who are in the crossfire of the sadistic lead – everyone is a potential victim, and not knowing who will live or die keeps you on edge throughout.
Thrillers and suspense shows seem to be ratings winners at the moment, with Broadchurch and US export Homeland both good examples of this. And with iconic London sites like the Old Bailey and Tower Bridge as the backdrop in The Escape Artist, you’re immersed in a familiar world. So, when the repercussions of successfully defending this twisted murderer start to emerge, Tennant is on a psychological thrill-ride that is very close to home.
4. The Serial Killer
The moment life goes wrong for Burton is when he’s convinced to take on the case of the arrogant psychopath Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell). Foyle is the yin to our protagonist’s yang, and the two seem engaged in some unholy mating game come boxing match.
Psychopaths are always fairly over the top and Kebbell does this well, but he also, dare I say it, is quite sexy in the role. The thin, towering giant seems to have matured into a solid man, and this plays brilliantly juxtaposed with the lithe Tennant; it’s a masterstroke when the baddy is as attractive as he is frightening. The fact you’re never in much doubt about Foyle’s guilt means you know from the beginning that something as simple as shaking his hand can mean the difference between life and death…
Director Brian Welsh (Black Mirror) handles the suspense wonderfully. There’s a scene where the lightning flashes and our serial killer’s silhouette is illuminated in the window; a great throw-back to classic horror. But it’s the way the actors work together – Kebbell playing the psycho, Okonedo the overly ambitious rival, and Tennant the conflicted protagonist – that makes the magic happen. Ashley Jensen as long-suffering wife Kate Burton is brilliant as the confidant, counsellor and loving wife to Tennant’s unstable lead. This, along with David Wolstencroft’s writing, makes The Escape Artist stand out in British television.
The Escape Artist is a three-part series starting on Tuesday 29 October at 9pm on BBC1.