This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Pfwoar! The BBC’s latest bonk-buster sizzled onto screens this weekend. Sunday nights are now sin-day nights thanks to this steamy shag-fest starring Emily Watson, 50, as a cheating, knicker-dropping mother-of-two. Viewers were shocked to see married granny-to-be Yvonne on the receiving end of regular knee tremblers in racy outdoor romps with Ben Chaplin’s sexy smooth operator. One saucy scene even saw the flirty fifty-year-old ditch her underwear and go commando. Literally. She took off her knickers. Where her lady parts are kept. And did it. Loads of times. With a man. And she’s fifty. Fifty.
We’re not grown-up enough to be cool about sex in the UK. Unlike our pals in continental Europe, where Apple Tree Yard’s consensual sex scenes might be met with a ‘bof’ and a shrug, they turn us into Eric Idle in the Nudge Nudge sketch. “Dr Yvonne Carmichael, eh? Is she a sport? I bet she is, I bet she is, say no more”.
The ears of some papers in particular have pricked up with even more prurience at Apple Tree Yard’s depiction of a woman decades past the legal age of consent (or as they might prefer, use-by-date) enjoying sex. That the stranger Yvonne starts an affair in episode one with is also pushing fifty and married with kids doesn’t warrant a mention. The transgression is hers. An almost-gran shagging someone in an alley! What larks!
The larks are actually pretty minimal in Apple Tree Yard due to episode one’s opening and closing scenes. First, it was revealed that nine months after the affair begins, Yvonne is in police custody on her way to being tried for an unknown crime. And last, the final scene shows Yvonne being violently raped by her colleague. The collar-yanking, ear-steaming reviews found less to say about that, despite it having the most impact of the whole hour.
The rape was brutal and depicted as such. Emily Watson’s character was punched in the head twice and threatened with more violence if she moved. Director Jessica Hobbs focused on Yvonne’s terrified face during the attack, which was an abrupt shift from the scene’s previously pally, drunken tone. Immediately, I started fantasising that nine months later, Yvonne was being tried for the murder of that pathetic camouflaged piece of shit, but Apple Tree Yard likely has something more complicated in store.
I haven’t read the book but the stage has been set at least, for an investigation into judgements made on female sexuality. Utterly irrelevant as it is, Yvonne was seen drinking and giggling with her rapist on the night of the attack, voluntarily going into his office after hours, and because of her earlier tryst, wasn’t wearing underwear. How that, the affair which her rapist threatened to reveal to her husband, and the text messages she sent that night to her lover might be used to discredit her is a disgusting thought.
Whatever happens, Apple Tree Yard obviously has aspirations beyond titillation. It’s using thriller trappings to tell a story about gender, sex and power, as laid out in an off-hand comment by Yvonne’s husband Gary (Mark Bonnar) after she was propositioned by a male graduate student. “You’re the one with all the power, love, that’s probably what it was about. You can screw him over so he thought he’d do the same with you, you know, redress the balance.”
A redressing of ‘the balance’ sounds horribly like the motivation for Yvonne’s rapist too. In the knowledge of her affair, she became fair game in his eyes. When she refused his advances, he taught her a nasty lesson about who had the power.
Still on the subject of power and sex are the rumours that Gary had an affair with his much younger research assistant. He denied it, but Apple Tree Yard having left us to draw our own conclusions on that, surely we all agree he’s guilty. Rosa’s drunken but heart-felt apology to Yvonne made up my mind on that front.
Morally, suspecting Gary of an affair made it far easier to enjoy Yvonne’s erotic adventures. (How hot you found it probably depends on how much you used to fancy Matthew from series one of Game On so for me it was, you know, volcanic.) The best scene though, much more compelling than the broom cupboard stuff, the bored marriage stuff or the embarrassing “having sex with you is like being eaten by a wolf” stuff, was Emily Watson contemplating her face in the mirror after their first assignation. Did she look different? Would anyone be able to tell? “Captain Sensible” to her friends, Yvonne looked drunk with the thrill of what she’d done, as she did later telling herself “I’m fucking a spook”.
Is she? It looks that way. Yvonne’s job and all the DNA talk point to some kind of complicated future set-up by Mr Houses of Parliament, though to guess exactly what seems foolish at this stage. The intrigue as to what led Yvonne to that courtroom is enough to keep me watching, as is the delicately building portrait of a woman who feels her sexual currency devalued by age and who is now a survivor of rape.
By which I mean of course, wa-hey! Shagtastic bonks on the BBC! Fnar Fnar.
Apple Tree Yard continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.