In some ways this film echoes the themes of “Shirley Valentine” in that it deals with a woman feeling trapped by domesticity who breaks out and finds herself. The treatment though is very different.
Tara (Gemma Arterton) is a young wife and mother who would appear to some to have a perfect life. Two children, a nice house in the suburbs, a reasonably affluent life style and a loving husband Mark (Dominic Cooper), who still fancies her like mad. She feels she ought to be happy – her mum (Frances Barber) tells her so – but the endless routine of school runs, shopping, chores and even sex, which has become just another chore, is suffocating her. Eventually she snaps, walks out and gets on train to Paris, where she is mesmerised by the Flemish medieval tapestry of “The Lady and the Unicorn” in a museum and meets a charismatic Frenchman Philippe (Jalil Lespert). Is he the answer to her frustration or just a holiday romance?
Although credited as the writer too, director Dominic Savage uses a lot of improvisation in his work with actors actually on the shoot, which brings a sharp sense of reality to the story. On paper you might think Tara, a woman who leaves her children to pursue her own life, is selfish. But the sincerity of Arterton’s performance forces you to empathise with her. She is very good indeed. Cooper too is excellent as Mark, not a man of great sensitivity. His bewilderment and lack of comprehension about what is happening to his wife is very moving.
The camera work (cinematographer Laurie Rose) is also very interesting and effective. Told very much from Tara’s point of view, the intimate scenes are largely in close up, forcing us to identify with the characters. When we escape from the confines of the house however, as in a scene where Tara first discovers the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry when visiting a South Bank book stall in London, or when she gets off the train at the Gare du Nord in Paris and experiences the romance of the Parisian streets, the picture opens up to a give us a great sense of location and the life in the outside world as she is experiencing it.
The story may at first sound like a somewhat oft told one. The telling of it though is original, moving and totally gripping.