Friday, June 13, 2014

The Escape Artist: David Tennant Never Rests

There are some subtle but important differences between the British and Scottish justice systems. In contrast, the practice of criminal laws in the US and the UK varies quite drastically. Viewers will get a good sense of how through the eyes of a high flying barrister about to crash down to earth in David Wolstencroft’s two-part Escape Artist, directed by Brian Welsh, which premieres this Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery (promo here).

Having never lost a case, Will Burton is currently ranked #1 amongst London’s barristers. Maggie Gardner is number #2. She has only lost to Burton. Unfortunately, she is about to do it again. For his defense of the palpably coldblooded Liam Foyle, Burton has some sneaky lawyer stuff tucked up his sleeve. It works, maybe too well. Thanks to Burton, Foyle is a free man, but he is put off by his barrister’s thinly concealed contempt. This leads to obsession and soon tragedy. Before long, Burton will be experiencing a criminal trial from a new perspective—as a witness.

During the first half of the first installment, Escape seems like it will be somewhat edgier variation on the themes of the middling Silk, but by the end of the first night, it is clear the principal characters are playing for vastly higher stakes. Arguably, it comes from an emotional place not so radically dissimilar from David Tennant’s massively brooding hit, Broadchurch.

Indeed, it is hard to match Tennant’s facility for playing highly intelligent characters prone to obsessive self-recriminations. He is definitely in his element throughout Artist. Recent Tony winner (as of just now) Sophie Okonedo is reasonably okay as Gardner, but her finest moments come playing off Tennant’s twitchy Burton. She certainly cannot match Toby Kebbell’s villainous intensity as Foyle, providing one of the real surprises of Escape. Longtime Mystery viewers will also be amused to see Roy Marsden, the former Adam Dalgliesh, turn up in a rather pedestrian role as Foyle’s solicitor, Peter Simkins.

Escape steadily builds to a dynamite conclusion, but you have to sit through a fair amount of angst to get there. It plays viewers so skillfully, we do not know we have been played until the rabbit jumps out of the hat. That means you really cannot fast forward through it, without potentially missing some carefully laid set-up business. Not quite as tortured as Broadchurch, but still dashed dark, The Escape Artist is worth sticking out. Recommended for fans of legal thrillers and British crimes dramas, The Escape Artist begins this Sunday (6/15) and concludes one week later (6/22) as part of the current season of Masterpiece Mystery on most PBS outlets nationwide.