Based on Louise Doughty’s bestselling book of the same name, Apple Tree Yard is an excellent brand new four-part drama for BBC One starring Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin.
Towards the end of 2016, I was invited down to BAFTA to attend a special preview screening of the first episode which tells the story of Dr. Yvonne Carmichael.
The shocking scenes I witnessed towards the end of that episode still haven’t left me but understandably it’s not something I’m allowed to talk about. Another thing that hasn’t left me is the original book which I started reading just before Christmas and have now finished… and I’m hoping that it won’t spoil the rest of the series for me too much.
“Before I met you, I was a civilised woman. Civilised. Now I don’t even know what that means. Food, shelter, sex. Once those needs are covered, we can pretend we’re in control. But the lives we build keep us human, but really we’re all just animals. You know how I know that? Fear. Fear for your life. Once you’ve felt that, everything else, all this so-called civilisation, it’s a dream/ You’ve taught me that my love. Fear makes animals of us all.”
Yvonne’s opening voiceover perfectly sets up the four episodes and accompanies the very first time we see her. Rather unexpectedly we first meet her handcuffed and inside a prisoner transport vehicle.
Who Yvonne is talking to in her opening voiceover when she says “my love” and how she ended up in handcuffs is something we don’t know at the start of the series, but when the story jumps to nine months earlier, it’s a chance for us to answer those questions and find out just where things all went wrong for Yvonne.
She’s a highly esteemed geneticist working at one of the most respected institutions in her field, she’s attractive and capable but despite having a high-flying career, a beautiful home and a loving family, buried somewhere deep is a residual frustration and the usual undercurrents of resentment and complacence.
When she is approached by a charismatic stranger, she soon finds herself taking risks that she had never dreamt of before. Totally unexpectedly, their encounter builds to a passionate and all-consuming affair, and soon the law-abiding Yvonne finds herself in deep and out of her depth.
Her world unravels as she meets Costley… But who is he?
Costley, or Mark Costley to give him his full name is a rather intriguing, mysterious and elusive character who gives very little away and is played wonderfully by Ben Chaplin.
With his direct gaze and expensive suits, there’s a sleekness and confidence in Costley’s movements, and a poise that Yvonne is deeply attracted to. When he gives Yvonne his full attention he is devastatingly charismatic and makes her feel like the centre of his world, however fleetingly.
As the series goes on, is there more to his civil service role than he’ll admit and will we find out who Mark Costly really is? One evening, on her way to a colleague’s party, she and Costley share a passionate moment in a small backstreet alley, Apple Tree Yard – the moment the book/series is named after.
Arriving at the event, she is glowing, but by the end of the night, joy turns to devastation when a sudden and shocking act of violence changes everything.
Speaking at the BAFTA launch, original author Louise Doughty spoke about how she was “thrilled to bits” that the BBC wanted to turn her novel into a television series but admitted that she felt “quite trepidacious” about it, as it’s a book she described as very “personal and very dear to her heart.
Apple Tree Yard was adapted for the small screen by Amanda Coe, and when asked why she didn’t adapt her own novel for TV, Louise said:
“I was completely clear that I had no desire in writing the adaptation. I actually think there should be a law against novelists adapting their own books. You’re too involved. You tend to want to keep scenes that have been difficult to write, which are not necessarily the best scenes.
Luckily, I really loved Amanda’s work and had seen her adaptation of Room At The Top which I thought was just wonderful. As soon as they mentioned her name I could just step essentially now.”
Speaking about the first time she read the script for Apple Tree Yard, Emily Watson told the audience at BAFTA:
“It made me very nervous. I feel like something like this has come at a time in my career when the roles for women of my age get smaller and smaller and smaller and this is about a fully grown up woman who is powerfully sexual and has a complex life. And those women aren’t really represented on screen very much.”
A lot has already been made about the sex scenes in Apple Tree Yard, and when asked about them at the launch, Emily said:
“There were some very full and frank discussions. When you’re asked to do those scenes when you’re 22, it’s just a lot of fumbling and hoping and wishing for them to say cut. When you’ve got two actors who have been around the block a few times – between us, we’ve probably put in a few hours of sex scenes.
We just sat there and discussed it point by point because we wanted it to seem real. I’ve known Ben for a long time and we were very honest about it and straight-forward and it was fun.”
Susan Lynch plays Susannah, Yvonne and Gary’s longstanding and loyal best friend. Effortlessly attractive and with a down-to-earth manner, for whatever reason she hasn’t had that much success with men and her current relationship is also on the wane.
She approves heartily of Gary and from the outside she assumes that Yvonne has every reason to be completely and blissfully happy. It is hard for her to see that long-term intimacy brings its own demons.
Also starring in the series are Mark Bonnar, who plays Yvonne’s husband Gary, Jack Hamilton who plays their son Adam and Olivia Vinall who plays their daughter Carrie.
The series looks wonderful and Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin make for a compelling on-screen couple that you just want to keep watching and can’t help but want to know more about.
Once again, Emily delivers an emotional, powerful and understated performance, a style she has really mastered throughout her career and one which suits Yvonne in Apple Tree Yard perfectly.
Despite her flaws and despite her misdoings, Emily’s performance makes you care for Yvonne, something few actresses would be able to accomplish but she does so with apparent ease. So much so, that I couldn’t think of another actress playing the part.
I’ve only seen the first episode, but having read the book, I know where the story goes and if the adaptation is half as good as that, then we are in for some incredible moments from Watson. Moments which I for one can’t wait for.
Apple Tree Yard starts Sunday 22nd January at 9pm on BBC One