Based on the novel by Louise Doughty of the same name, Apple Tree Yard is a provocative thriller from the BBC, following scientist Dr Yvonne Carmichael. The story centres around her transformation from a mundane, ‘Captain Sensible’, married woman with children, living the perfect suburban dream, to an empowered adulteress having hot sex in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament with a complete stranger. Sounds like a familiar situation? No, probably not.
Yvonne’s character (Emily Watson) is rare in her portrayal of a middle aged woman exploring her sexuality. She’s in control at home, she’s powerful and composed in her work, and sophisticated in her demeanour. This makes her transgression all the sweeter as, throughout the episode, she loses this control over every aspect of her life, discovering her internal ‘animal’ fervour.
Her lover, Mark Costley, is more of an enigma. Never convincingly admitting his profession, he is also a married man with young children and has a particular penchant for sex in public spots – something which cautions Yvonne to ask whether it’s her he is attracted to, or just the thrill from the risk of being caught. He is the tall, dark, suave male lead of a trite housewife’s fantasy.
Sexual tension is played out over a slice of cake, as they tease each other’s forks, mirroring their equally cheeky game of footsie under the table. There is the original broom cupboard scene, resplendent of a school janitor’s cupboard fumble when Mark sticks his foot into a bucket in the process. They even take their activity out into the street to a quiet side alley – the eponymous Apple Tree Yard in London’s borough of Westminster.
This starkly contrasts with the mundane activity of Yvonne’s home life. She carries out her recycling. She phones her husband Gary to check on the Tesco delivery. She’s a modern woman, googling local STD clinics to visit on her iPad, hours after her first unprotected fling in a crypt (stay safe, kids).
But this is not your average middle-aged-couple-have-an-affair-and-worry-about-getting-caught story, if there is such a thing. There are hints that Gary – a successful scientist himself – may not have been completely honest about his relationship with his young lab assistant. Mark is constantly checking his two mobile phones and seems to know a bit too much about security cameras throughout London’s city centre (I think we both know this is not just a mere hobby). And then, to provide an ample cliff-hanger at the end of the episode, Yvonne is brutally attacked and raped by her co-worker at a work party. This curious thriller just got a whole lot darker.
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