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DRAMA REVIEW: APPLE TREE YARD

Desirably jam-packed with delightful intrigue and unnerving suspense, Apple Tree Yard combines the best of a psychological thriller, a heartfelt romance and the worst of human nature.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!


Although many viewers may find steamy encounters in secret closets a little much for their Sunday night viewing, Apple Tree Yard does deliver much more of a plot-line than a couple of raunchy scenes that one would generally expect to hold little narrative. However, this is not the case. Thankfully the series, based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, provides its viewers with a multi-layered plot which digs deeper and deeper until it seems practically impossible to uncover any more dark and troubling secrets. This is no ordinary love affair; bit by bit the plot twists and turns as a one-off encounter in the heat of the moment evolves into a nerve-wrecking scramble to hide the truth, therefore unraveling consequences of a horrifying nature.

Image result for apple tree yardYvonne Carmichael is introduced to us as an intelligent and respected scientist, a married middle-aged woman who is confident in her own high-heeled shoes. Within the first few minutes of Episode 1 Yvonne commits a reckless and risky act with a handsome, alluring stranger in a closet, and in the Houses of Parliament no less. This self-controlled, self-respecting woman we have shortly been introduced to has suddenly stepped off the expectation mark and done something so entirely uncharacteristic it surprises both herself and the audience. This one encounter soon develops into a heated and passionate affair spun with mystery and secrets, and, as real life demands, nothing ever goes to plan.

Emily Watson is always a joy to watch. The subtlety in which she delivers a character's emotions and the extremes that she plays in Yvonne's character is both captivating and distressing. A strong on-screen presence right from the start, the soft lull of her whispering voice as she writes to her mysterious lover is intertwined throughout each episode as she comes to terms with the events that spiral out of control with almost alarming speed. 

Yvonne's sexuality and femininity is a breath of fresh air amidst today's' general speculations of what an older woman should be and how she should act. Although the presence of strong on-screen female characters has risen over the last couple of years, it seems once an actress hits the grand age of 50 she is written-off and left with fewer and fewer opportunities. It could be said that TV dramas most loyal followers are women, and providing them with a story such as Apple Tree Yard is a reminder that older women are and can be attractive, and strong-willed, and that they have not at all been forgotten.

In an interview, Watson stated that she was left feeling a bit traumatised after filming one particular scene which was enforced with real-life testimonies from rape-victims in order to deliver a believable and real performance. In knowing this, Watson's acting is all the more admirable and harrowing as her character develops.

Image result for apple tree yard markOpposite Watson's character is Mark Costley, played by Ben Chaplin: tall, handsome and becomingly flirtatious. The boyish grin and sincerity Chaplin displays leaves the viewers free to like him immediately, captivated by the mystery that shrouds him - or perhaps the mystery he has shrouded himself in? As the plot develops the viewer is tricked, like Yvonne, that we know all about him, when in fact they are only given snippets of information that create a willfully good picture of his secretive, roguish life.

Chaplin performs Mark's character with both tenderness and a sinister undertone, something which comes into play in later episodes as the viewer is left questioning everything they have seen.

In reality Chaplin and Watson are good friends, and revealed that their friendship may have overshadowed the passionate romance that continually broiled just under the surface. Knowing this beforehand may have made viewing a little awkward for some viewers - some have also conceded that their affair was verging on chilled rather than the heated scandal it was made out to be.

Whilst the affair develops into something more dangerous, Yvonne must also deal with her home life: her pregnant daughter, her troubled son and her husband Gary who has (in the apparent past) had an affair of his own with a student. Gary is played by Mark Bonnar - who many might recognise as Duncan Hunter from Shetland, Adam Collingborne in ITV's Home Fires, and Chris in Catastrophe. The relationship between the the Carmichael's is standoffishly tense, the truth verging on a knife's edge as it brings into question the reason for each character's motive for cheating on their other half. Despite his apparent disloyalty, Gary gallantly stays by Yvonne's side and seeks to help her in later episodes.

Whilst riveted to our seats, perhaps with curiosity, perhaps with horror, the audience is innocently thrust into a world of almost unbelievable personally catastrophic events. One thing Apple Tree Yard does deal with exceedingly well is human nature; carnal lust, the instinct to survive no matter the cost, the need to be loved, and our ultimate short-coming in our endeavours to self-destruct.

Betrayal, paranoia, passion, regret, fear and denial are rampant in this beguiling story. In confronting several disturbing and difficult subjects, the series provides an unassailably realistic account of what can happen due to one irrational act.  Truth and lies seem almost limitless in the scandals that unfold, and by the end of the series, with one final gobsmackingly haunting plot twist, the viewer is left with an unsettling and tantalising realisation. But to uncover this truth, you must find it out for yourself.

Apple Tree Yard is available to buy as both a book and DVD online.
View the trailer here

(Photo credits: Google, the Metro, the Guardian)

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