Based on the short story The Store of the Worlds, written by American fantasy author Robert Sheckley and first published in 1959, writer-director Paul Franklin’s new short film The Escape (18mins) is a stylish and restrained filmic reworking of Sheckley’s premise that retains the core conceit of its literary source material.
With the support of Creative England and the British Film Institute behind him, Franklin is able to assemble an impressive cast. Julian Sands exudes skittish uncertainty as Lambert, a man apparently unhappy and trapped in an unsatisfying professional and personal life, who longs for the sense of freedom and fulfilment as he feels time ebbing away. Art Malik effortlessly convinces as the mysterious and mercantile Kellan, an entrepreneur come inventor, who promises to transport Lambert (albeit briefly) to any kind of perfect alternate world he can imagine.
Olivia Williams offers a warm performance as Lambert’s wife Sarah, saddened at the departure of her daughter Megan to university; evidence that the years are passing and that family life will never to be the same again. Ben Miller breezes through the role of businessman Mike, downplaying growing market and climate worries to talk-up his excitement about his upcoming divorce and rediscovering his independent self. Both these characters highlight for Lambert the sense that, in an unfulfilled life, opportunities will disappear if not seized.
In the background, radio news (voiced by Angela Rippon, no less) dwells on the worsening rain storms increasingly dominating weather systems across the planet, but a preoccupied Lambert’s attention is focused elsewhere, as he must decide whether to sacrifice everything of value he owns in return for a fleeting experience of his ideal existence.
Finishing with a genuinely clever twist, The Escape delivers a well-crafted genre short which, like the story that inspired it, genuinely has something to say about the nature of longing, contentment and human aspiration. The short film is never the easiest format to distribute, and The Escape is most likely to build a reputation, and find an audience, through the film festival circuit. It deserves to do well. Let’s hope a positive reception encourages its funders to back the production of more intelligent, idea-driven fantasy shorts.
THE ESCAPE / CERT: TBC / WRITER: PAUL FRANKLIN / DIRECTOR: PAUL FRANKLIN / CAST: JULIAN SANDS, ART MALIK, OLIVIA WILLIAMS, BEN MILLER, MIMI KEENE, IVO BURTON-FRANKLIN / UK RELEASE: TBC