Even serial killers deserve a defense.
What happens when the one thing you have put all of your faith into is tested? That’s the question The Escape Artist, part of PBS’ highly successful Masterpiece Mystery! series, poses and answers in a collection of three episodes with each one making the audience more tense and anxious to reach the conclusion. David Tennant (Doctor Who) stars as Will Burton, a junior barrister on the fast track to becoming one of the most respected silks (a British legal term referring to a very high honor one usually achieves after becoming a senior barrister). He’s gotten a reputation as a go-to lawyer and it’s no wonder…he’s never lost a case.
And it seems as though things will continue to be golden for him. That is until creepy guy Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell, RocknRolla) comes onto the scene. Accused of killing a woman in a truly horrific way Will is assigned to defend him. It’s clear Will has some reservations about Liam, yet he devotes himself to the case and is just glad when the verdict is handed down. And when it does it is no surprise to the audience…Foyle’s case is dismissed through a technicality.
We know Will is a devoted family man although he is not always completely in the moment when he is with them. However it’s clear Will is indeed trying and not just some career-obsessed schmuck who doesn’t know what he has at home. But then the unthinkable happens. Will arrives at the family cottage after having to stay late yet again at work to find his wife’s been murdered.
And he sees Liam Foyle at the scene.
That takes us to the end of the first episode. And leaves us with the question posed earlier. Will Burton has more faith in the law than in anything else in his life. But when he must rely on it securing him justice, can he commit to that faith and let things play out? The remaining two episodes focus on the trial of Liam Foyle and the aftermath, with the audience learning more about both Will and Liam. The pace is tightened even further with each scene until the very end, when we find out what Will’s faith has granted him.
The story of The Escape Artist is sold in the non-verbals. The script is extremely tight and the courtroom action riveting, however it’s most impressive to consider the key points of the entire series are expressed silently. We know Will struggles to not take too much pride in his zero-loss record and we know why Liam turns on him…but without a word being spoken to acknowledge either. Tennant and Kebbell are completely convincing. And they need to be — the success of the story rests on their characters. While Tennant does more of the heavy lifting, don’t discount Kebbell, whose portrayal of Folye devolves from just an anti-social loner into a truly terrifying character in a few short scenes. If you enjoy legal thrillers The Escape Artist does a great job keeping things tense and compelling.
The one thing The Escape Artist does not do is provide state-of-the-art technical specifications. The video is a standard def 1.78:1 widescreen transfer with a flat palette not timed to showcase London in any way, but rather to underscore the severe nature of the proceedings. Even the blood is a muted red. The audio is not good. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is not well-balanced and I found myself turning up the speakers beyond the halfway mark at times in order to hear some of the dialogue. I can respect wanting people to speak with the words and at the volume and pace of normal people, however, if it’s bordering on indistinguishable how does that help me stay connected?
The special features included are two interviews, one with Tennant and one with screenwriter David Wolstencroft (MI-5).
The Escape Artist is difficult to watch not because of the violence implied, but rather because we want to know the end so early on. I had to actively fight the urge to skip the second episode and move to the last half of the third so I would know how it all plays out. It’s tense and gripping and both Tennant and Kebbell sell their performances in exactly the right way. Yes, I have issues with the technical specs but the writing and performances are good enough to elevate the disc above those concerns. Masterpiece Mystery! has produced another winner.