Oh, it’s marvellous to be treated as an adult and to be allowed to enjoy the sunny uplands of maturity by a television drama that looks directly at me and says: “This is going to hurt.”
Apple Tree Yard has been piercing and painful and a rare example of a work of television fiction that is ruthlessly, excruciatingly honest about so many things; what can be the initial heady liberation of apparently no-strings adultery for a (cover your ears/look away now) middle-aged woman with much to lose. And, most importantly, the destructive consequences of a savage act.
I know I take this particular horse to water regularly, but it still must be said, loud and clear – if a drama involves the rape of a character (female or male) it has an absolute duty to spare us little. Apple Tree Yard has spared us nothing.
Its lead character Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson, who is just terrific) is a successful, respected geneticist, who starts a torrid affair with a stranger. They simply pick each other up after she’s given evidence to a House of Commons select committee, and do the deed in a cupboard in the Crypt. Wey-hey! It’s out of character for Yvonne, who seems to be happily married in an affluent suburb, with a lovely kitchen and a commendable recycling routine.
She secretly smiles to herself on the Tube, hugging her secret, and carries a new confidence as she’s warmed like a sunflower by the attention of a thrillingly mysterious man whose name she doesn’t know.
But Yvonne’s life and spirit are destroyed when she’s savagely sexually assaulted by a colleague at a leaving do, and this is where Apple Tree Yard takes us into territory that’s rarely explored – consequences.
Because Apple Tree Yard is ALL consequences. It treats the attack, not just as a plot point or as a means of teaching Yvonne a medieval lesson (she’s had an affair and she’s married! PUNISH HER!) but as an action from which everything else springs, everything, right up to the closing moments of the very last episode.
Author Louise Doughty explored this magnificently in her original novel and adapter Amanda Coe has done a fine job of staying absolutely true to the spirit.
But what I really love about Apple Tree Yard is its constant challenges to us, the audience. What would you do? It wants to know. Would you happily be tupped by a stranger in a cupboard? Would you really take off your knickers in a pub toilet at the behest of your lover before a swift rogering in an alleyway?
It wonders, too, whether we are the kind of people who make judgements about rape victims. There’s a chilling scene where a police officer informally talks to Yvonne about making an official complaint. “[Your] being drunk will be a gift for the defence.”
And you’ll want to thump an odious little twerp who advises Yvonne about a court appearance: “You ladies don’t make it easy for us.”
But it’s a level of Apple Tree Yard’s sophistication and maturity that it presents us with the unpalatable and then doesn’t give us any answers. It’s a thoroughly adult drama for the 21st century, though having said that I’m not sure even ten years ago a television drama would invite such excoriating self-examination from its audience. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad we are being trusted to think the unthinkable for ourselves.