The Escape Artist

2014-03-18_2237It’s getting hard to keep up with the legal dramas hitting our screens: Rake, Janet King, The Good Wife, Law & Order SVU. Talk about being spoiled for choice.

Buckle up, here comes another one –The Escape Artist starring David Tennant.

Rather than assuming an illusionist act, Tennant plays Will Burton, a junior criminal defence lawyer on the brink of becoming a silk, a Queen’s Counsel.

He’s so adept at his work he is considered the number one criminal lawyer in town, while the number two is played by Sophie Okonedo (The Slap, Hotel Rwanda). Central to his success is the point that he has never lost a case, but it has come at a price with his wife Kate (Ashley Jensen) and young son seeing less and less of him at home.

The case he is currently handling is a profile one, involving Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell) who is on trial for the brutal torture and murder of a young woman. By his own admission, Foyle is a piece of work.

“I don’t like people very much,” he admits.

In scenes between barrister and client Foyle isn’t convinced that Burton believes in his innocence. Burton separates his personal feelings from the case and avoids Foyle’s questioning. It’s his job, after all, to mount a convincing defence. Sure enough, he finds a loophole to get his man off the hook, to the shock of onlookers expecting justice being seen to be served.

But the story does not end there with Foyle becoming obsessed with the man who did not believe him (despite the outcome). It isn’t long before evil rears its head and Burton becomes a victim himself. As a result Okonedo’s character will soon be defending Foyle in a second case.

In effect, Burton is forced to make a complete U-turn, facing the very questions he avoided when circumstances differed.

David Tennant is always charismatic on the screen and here we see him as father and career man whose pursuit of perfection will cost him dearly. Toby Kebbell is menacing as the smiling assassin and the two are well-matched, driving the narrative.

With its questions of morality and justice, The Escape Artist fuses drama and, eventually, some real jeopardy. But the script by David Wolstencroft (Spooks) takes a full hour to reach its core conflict. It’s as if the whole episode is setting up the premise for the loaded drama to follow in 2 more instalments.

That said, it has some fine performances and plenty to work with once Burton’s character unravels by the end of the first episode.

SBS is certainly offering some hidden gems with these ‘arthouse’ alternatives and The Escape Artist stands up well if you’re looking for something pretty satisfying without the commitment of a full season.

The Escape Artist airs 9:30pm Thursday SBS ONE


  1. Secret Squirrel

    I thought it was alright and will watch the next ep. The acting was good, esp Ashley Jensen, but the plot was a little too predictable and convenient. The detail of his wife having just discovered that she was pregnant before she was murdered was an unnecessary detail and stood out as an attempt to emotionally manipulate the audience.

    I think the plot for the second ep will be pretty much by the numbers with the end result already a given, and I’m guessing the third will see the resolution of the story with appropriate retribution.

    However, it’s still miles better than the swill offered on Thursdays by the commercial networks.

  2. Tense drama. Great acting. And scary. I didn’t mind the pace and lead up to the end of the of the first episode as the acting and storyline was so engrossing.

  3. A brilliant masterclass in a modern legal drama. An authored piece with a 360 degree view of the key players. It was a bit slow to get moving, but totally assured as to where it was going. (As a family of mum, dad and 10 year old son (and dog), who had a city townhouse and a weekender) I found it particularly confronting to watch as the pervading menace intensified to the inevitable horrific conclusion of the first ep.

  4. Maev....Sydney

    Yes…acting good all around…I will watch again next week…just kinda felt there was too much crammed into the story in one hour..all a bit OTT….like it was being rushed and not enough time for the story to develop…just my view.

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