‘The Escape Artist’ Episode 1 review

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In the first hour of BBC One’s new three-part legal thriller, from the pen of Spooks creator David Wolstencroft, we see Burton’s world taken apart after he defends the unsettling alleged killer Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell) for a particularly brutal murder.

Working on the premise that everyone deserves a defence, Burton manages to get the accused off the hook, preying on the technicalities of the law rather than with the establishment of reasonable doubt.

It is a hollow victory which leaves a bad taste left in the mouth and Burton’s refusal to shake hands with Foyle once acquitted appears to be a slight which triggers horrific consequences. Taking his life apart both professionally and personally, Foyle first lodges a complaint of professional misconduct, before going on to murder his wife.

Will Burton did really appear to have that perfect life but we struggled to swallow the idea that he has never been beaten. Tennant plays the character with a winning charm, despite our misgivings about his profession, and the story revealed that winning cases does not necessarily mean the clearing of his client’s name, merely the tipping of the legal scales towards the side of doubt.

In the supporting cast, Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen stood out as the supportive wife, both mocking and loving in equal turn. That Kate was pregnant but did not get the chance to reveal the news seems likely to have relevance later in the tale, as well as being a further emotional punch.

While the legal concepts were not spoon-fed, we are all surely well-schooled enough from television shows to know the basics, there were some charming scenes which introduced them in plain language; Burton’s visit to his son’s school laid out what he did for a living and at the same time neatly underscored the pressures of his work/life balance.

There were some effective scares along the way, but what really impressed was the final scene, with Burton confronting his legal rival Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), clearly hurt that she had readily taken the case for Foyle’s defence. She, of course, parroted back his own litany that everyone deserves a defence. His reaction, spearing an apple on the railing like a head on spike, spoke volumes.

This was an excellent opener, provoking questions about the moral ambiguities of the way barristers operate, where a successful defence might free a murderer. From a dramatic point of few, we were certainly left wanting more; with the promise of a tumultuous ride as these legal minds go to war.

With Burton’s professional detachment gone, the prospect of him proving Foyle’s guilt is tantalising. Determined to put him away this time, we can not wait to see what lengths he will go to in order to achieve justice.

Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 29 October 2013 on BBC One.

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