The BBC seem to be doing well with dramas featuring big stars. Bringing in the likes of Tom Hiddleston these names attract a lot of attention, and very good performances. Apple Tree Yard is the latest, featuring one of the bests British actors in the form of Emily Watson. The question is does it make good use of her skills?
Adapted from Louise Doughty’s novel, Apple Tree Yard is the story of Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson). A married woman who has an exciting affair with an alluring stranger, Mark Costley (Ben Chaplin) she is at first excited by the danger of the new relationship. When things go terribly wrong though and she and her lover are accused of murder, just how much can she trust Costley and how well does she know him?
Apple Tree Yard is a lesson into the art of the reveal. Teasing a court case, in the first episode we don’t know what has happened, but we know something has gone wrong. We see the affair between Yvonne and Mark grown, and we see her create fantastical stories about him in her head and everything is good. Then the attack happens.
When Yvonne is attacked by a co-worker who apparently knows she is having an affair, it has a devastating effect on her life. This leads to a further violent act that sees both Yvonne and her lover charged with murder. The question is, just how guilty is Yvonne of the deed when she doesn’t actually put a hand to the victim, and arguably is pushed to try to warn her attacker off? It is hard not to argue that this person needs to back off her, but is murder really the answer?
This is the question pondered by Apple Tree Yard, and it is answered at a slow methodical pace that some may find a little too slow. I understand the pacing decisions though, as the audience has to feel the psychological pain of Carmichael, and to empathise with her. This is why the choice of Emily Watson to play her is a wise decision. She is an actor who is very good at not only creating intense levels of emotion, but also keeping it internalised within her character.
Yvonne Carmichael is a character that appears to want to keep control, and wants to protect her family from what is going on. She is something of a fantasist though enjoying the adventure of having an affair. We see the proof of her love of the fantasy when the truth of Costley is revealed. Her ‘007’ is a failure also living a fantasy, and it is revealing how she acts at this point.
What Apple Tree Yard is good at is pulling the audience into the world of Yvonne Carmichael and believing what she says. I’d argue though that the truth of her character is our source material she provides us with. Her inner monologue is in fact a ‘diary’ or sorts that she puts together, we even see her writing it on her computer. A romanticised view of the world, the real question is…are we fooled into not knowing the true Yvonne Carmichael?
Whatever the truth is behind Emily Watson’s character, Apple Tree Yard is another must-see drama for the BBC. With an excellent cast, and a very good performance from Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, and also Mark Bonnar (Yvonne’s husband), this is a perfect example of what the BBC are getting right with their drama choices, and that makes for very good television.
Apple Tree Yard is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.