TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous.

Photograph: BBC/Kudos/Nick Briggs

It helps that an actor of the quality of Emily Watson is playing Yvonne, the two-time Oscar nominee offering up some extraordinary work in both the good times and the bad here, bouncing well off Ben Chaplin as her enigmatic lover Mark and also Mark Bonnar as her slightly dull husband. And as the affair becomes more serious, more entangled in the day-to-day life from which she’s tried to keep it separate, there’s a terrible momentum to the chain of events that follow on, ending up as they do in a Crown Court trial which dominates the latter part of the series.

The twisting nature of the plot provides a continual level of viewer anticipation, and enough excitement for you to forgive the occasional moments of stretched credulity, and the mystery behind who Mark really is is unspooled cleverly. There’s strong work from a brutal Lydia Leonard and Rhashan Stone as opposing counsel, and a lovely cameo for the glorious Denise Gough, but the consistently excellent Watson and Chaplin carry the day with this apocalyptic version of ‘what if…’, showing how even the most conventional of lives can be shattered in the blink of an eye and a rash decision to have a shag in a cupboard. 

Apple Tree Yard is released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 20th February 2017


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