Once in a while, along will come a drama series that blows me away.
It sucks me in and allows me to lose myself for an hour a week (or for a whole day if I watch on DVD – that’s been known to happen on occasion).
It’s pure escapism for me. A time to forget about the mundane things that often bog down my brain and focus on something that takes my mind to another place.
Over the last 4 weeks, a BBC1 Sunday night programme has lent itself very well to my thirst for a gritty drama.
Entitled Apple Tree Yard, the drama in question is based on a book that was written by Louise Doughty.
Now, I’d never read the book prior to settling down for the first episode of ATY, in fact, I’d never even heard of it. However, a quick read of the plot synopsis informed me I’d likely enjoy this psychological drama.
Having now finished the final episode (4 of 4), I can confirm my early predictions of enjoying this drama were proven correct.
Apple Tree Yard was, at times, a hard watch. It was dark, thrilling, chilling and took the viewer on something of an emotional rollercoaster. We watched as the leading female character; Dr Yvonne Carmichael’s life was turned quite simply; upside down.
Yvonne is a professional, a scientist, a career woman who has a grown up family; a daughter who is a scientist herself and a son with whom she appears to have a complicated relationship. This is explored delicately over the coming episodes.
Having given a presentation at the House Of Commons, this day starts out as just another working one for Yvonne, while we don’t know whether she is used to addressing an audience at the House of Commons, it certainly doesn’t feel like this is a big deal for the calm, collected Dr who delivers her presentation with ease.
What makes this day like no other for Yvonne is a ‘chance’ meeting with a mysterious stranger. A handsome stranger, dressed in a slick suit who piques Yvonne’s interest with his charming conversation and his knowledge of the world famous building.
Yvonne is drawn to this man. As the viewer we can instantly feel a surge of chemistry between the two of them as X (who Handsome Stranger is referred to as throughout the course of the series) leads Yvonne to a small cupboard like room in the House of Commons, where a suffragette hid during the 1911 census by way of protest.
It’s there, mere minutes into the first episode of the series, where a rather steamy sex scene takes place. At this stage Yvonne knows nothing of this man. Not his name, not his age. Nothing. The only details she knows is that his line of work is likely something to do with the House of Commons and she now knows just what he’s like between the sheets. Or, should I say, in a dusty crypt. No sheets were involved. Nor was a bed. Just some vertical, awkward looking lustiness.
From this point onwards, it’s like Yvonne is under X’s spell. A normally sensible, responsible woman, it’s almost as if she’s taken leave of her senses. And you just know, even this early on, that this will not end well. Especially as we see her in handcuffs in what appears to be a prison van.
A chance meeting between X and Yvonne after their clandestine liaison once again highlights the chemistry between the 2. This isn’t just a one off affair, this will be going some distance. But to what detriment? And just who is X and what does he do?
Yvonne is led to believe he works in the secret service. X is coy and secretive about his professional life. However, we know that like Yvonne, he too is married with children.
X’s professional life excites Yvonne. X excites Yvonne. Her somewhat boring, normal life has had a surge of energy and this is an itch that will continue to need scratching.
Yvonne’s marriage isn’t in the best of states, her husband is, in her eyes, involved with a colleague. Despite his denials. I feel like her relationship with her husband, and its dynamics goes some way to explain why Yvonne would have her head turned by X. Yvonne and Gary have been together since Uni, they’ve weathered many a storm, raised a family and each both had their successful careers. They make a good team but the spark has long gone. The desire has gone. Yvonne likely feels desired by this handsome stranger and to her, that’s worth the risk.
The relationship progresses, sex is often an al fresco affair, with X using his ‘intelligence’ to ensure they only ever do it in areas they won’t be caught. CCTV cameras are duds or turning the other way. She always believes him, giving him her faith and confidence.
There is one scene in Apple Tree Yard that changes the course of events for X and Yvonne. It’s a tough watch, unbearable in fact.
Yvonne, having been at a works party with colleagues, is brutally, brutally raped.
The scene is graphic. It’s shocking. And it’s something that stayed with me for a while after.
The rapist is a colleague she spent part of the evening drinking with. They were going to get a cab together at the end of the night. He lured her to an office so he could ‘collect some papers’ before they embarked on their journey to their respective homes. There he made his advances towards her, rebuffed he turned violent, informing Yvonne that he knew she was sleeping with another man behind her husband’s back and then he raped her.
Yvonne felt she could only confide about the rape to X. Horrified, he immediately resumed the role of confidant, a shoulder to cry on. The support she needed at what was the worst time in her life. Her attacker began to stalk her, turning up in a shop she was in or knowing that she’d had her hair done.
During a liaison with X, she opened up about her fears and concerns regarding the stalking. Could he, given his background in the MI5, scare him off? Having been advised by a ‘colleague’ of X’s to not report the rape given the certain circumstances, it was clear Yvonne was at a loss as to what to do.
We watched as Yvonne picked a very casually dressed X up from the train station, on a beautiful sunny day. The 2 of them drove to Yvonne’s attackers’ house. Yvonne stayed in the car, patiently waiting as X walked to the house to confront him, unaware of exactly what would take place in her absence.
I desperately do not want to give too much away just in case you’ve not yet caught up with all the episodes or perhaps you’ve not even watched any of the series (if you haven’t are you mad? Get involved straight away).
Emily Watson’s portrayal of Yvonne is compelling. She is a fantastic actress. She took me on such a journey with the character, I went from wanting to shake some sense into her, to totally appreciating her thoughts and feelings . I balked as I realised she was in the horrendous situation of deciding she is unable to report the rape because she had indulged in sex with X earlier that evening. I felt angry at the injustice of her being stalked by her rapist in the days and weeks after the horrendous event.
As a viewer I was on the edge of my seat throughout (actually my bed, I never watch TV anywhere else). I barely took a breath throughout the last 2 episodes. The dialogue between each pertinent character was superb. The performances by each actor was up there with the incredible Happy Valley for me (another fantastic BBC1 drama).
There are a couple of predictable elements, I won’t lie. I could foresee a few things happening rather early on. However, that does not detract anything from the amazing piece of television Apple Tree Yard was.
I couldn’t hate anyone in this tale of woe. Well, aside from Yvonne’s rapist, I hated him with every fibre of my being. I wanted to hate X (Mark Costley we later found out, he did have a name!) but I couldn’t. Like I said earlier, I wanted to feel annoyed by Yvonne but I just couldn’t.
Apple Tree Yard was, of course, a story of extreme proportions, but what an imagination the writer had. The story was told brilliantly. The backdrop of beautiful London added another dimension to proceedings and, again, without giving too much away, dare I say it the way the series ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were treated to a second series. I still have a few unanswered questions I’m hoping could be addressed so perhaps I should watch this space!