Apple Tree Yard, BBC’s latest in a string of solid thrillers, stars Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Punch Drunk Love) as Dr. Yvonne Carmichael – a scientist who we see in the beginning of the show wearing handcuffs on route to court. The series then flashes back in time nine months, where the audience witness her steady, ordinary life married to Gary (Mark Bonnar) being disrupted by a steamy love affair with the mysterious Mr. X. (great character actor Ben Chaplin), a man she meets on government business.
Adapted by Amanda Coe from a novel by Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard is structured like a gripping page-turner. Its story is lurid. The plot is constantly twisting. With only four episodes to tell its story, it’s fast and compact. Each episode, akin to a chapter, ends with a cliff-hanger which just makes one want to stay with the story – making for a very easy binge watch.
As mentioned, Apple Tree Yard goes to some dark places story-wise. Yet, what’s impressive is how Amanda Coe manages to navigate these areas with elegance and deftness. Much of the show centres upon the fallout of a rape. However, while a series like Game of Thrones gets criticised for depicting this malfeasance just for shock value, here it not only pushes the plot forward but Coe analyses how as a society we deal with such a troubling issue.
Is it a rape victim’s obligation to alert the police or the women close to her attacker? Is it irresponsible not to do so, putting other people’s lives at risk? However, what if this victim is scared? It is true that as a society, in order to uncover the truth about such actions, we have to interrogate the abused as if they are perpetrators, forcing them to relive traumatic events. Coe hits on all of these points and more, examining with skill these tough issues.
If Apple Tree Yard has a flaw, it’s fourth and final episode is far more conventional than the episodes which proceeded it. Fans of genre cinema attempting to predict future plot developments may be disappointed when the series’ outcome is far less fantastical than they may expect. However, this, in fact could also be interpreted as a strength. The show concludes somewhat realistically, something which a similar in-tone series like London Spy could have benefitted from.
For fans of dark psychological thrillers, Apple Tree Yard will undoubtedly appeal. It’s anchored by two excellent central performances by Watson and Chaplin and even up to its resolution – it remained exciting, gripping viewing. Stephen Porzio
DVD Release Date: February 20th