The Escape Artist
This review is of the complete BBC series and contains spoilers - please go to the last paragraph if you don't want to read them.
Well then, that was three weeks of mostly plausible drama of the kind the BBC do better than anyone, the midweek legal kind and it confirmed two things: David Tennant is the finest British television actor currently working, and Sophie Okonedo is still woefully underused. But back to The Escape Artist, the basic premise is that Tennant plays high flying barrister Will Burton who is undefeated in criminal trials and well on his way to ‘silk’, he ends up defending the clearly nutty Liam Foyle, played by a brilliant Toby Kebbell as a menacingly detached and well spoken loner. Despite Foyle having obviously committed the horrific murder he’s accused of, Will uses a technicality to get him off the charges. Although this would make most (sane) people deliriously happy - the evidence suggesting he’d done it was pretty compelling - the fact that Will fails to shake Foyle’s hand kicks off a series of pretty horrible events.Also along for the ride are Will’s family, his wife Kate, played by Ashley Jensen, and his son, and a few extras from his legal office. By the end of episode one, through a couple of implausible plot points - would Will’s wife and son really have gone back to the cottage on without him - Foyle is banged up charged with her murder. Now, as despicable as Foyle is there’s another character that comes pretty close, Okonedo’s Maggie Gardner. Even though she’s known Will and his wife for a long time, she’s happy to represent Foyle in his murder trial. That Will and Maggie have much the same kind of professional competition as Rupert Penry-Jones and Maxine Peake in that other BBC drama Silk is supposed to make that more acceptable. It doesn’t.
It probably goes without saying that the trial doesn’t go quite as expected and Foyle is free as a bird again before we’re ten minutes into the third episode, despite the inevitable DNA reveal halfway through episode two.The final episode gives itself time to play out the drama without rushing it, turning a drama into a revenge thriller, complete with final courtroom drama and a needless expositional appearance from Maggie, just to give Okonedo something to do. Acting honours go completely to Tennant who turns in an excellent performance first as a successful lawyer who has everything, then as a broken man with nothing left but carefully planned revenge. His best scene is left until the final courtroom drama as he explains he’s had his whole world taken away from him by Foyle, it’s gripping and moving. Kebbell pushes him close, sometimes very close to hammy Hannibal Lecter territory, sometimes genuinely chilling. Overall this was a pleasing addition to the BBC’s autumn drama slate and despite a few niggles nipped along at quite a pace. Three episodes seems the sweet spot for these one-off drama’s, giving the character and stories time to grow without leaving big gaps where nothing happens. If you missed out on this it's well worth catching on the old iPlayer and will be released on DVD on the 18th November to buy.