Apple Tree Yard episode 2 review

Apple Tree Yard’s second episode paints a bleak but honest picture of the aftermath of sexual assault…

Emily Watson in Apple Tree Yard BBC
Photo: BBC Pictures

This review contains spoilers.

If they weren’t already chastened by last week’s brutal final moments, anyone still rubbing their thighs over episode one’s sex scenes will feel suitably uncomfortable now. Until its last-minute shift into thriller territory, episode two of Apple Tree Yard was a sombre hour focused on the aftermath of rape.

The revenge plot didn’t make an appearance until very late, which gave due prominence to Yvonne’s dismal story, one told by director Jessica Hobbs and Emily Watson with restrained yet frank intimacy. We were shown the finger-shaped bruises on Yvonne’s thighs and how her psychological bruises outlasted them. Before she asked her ‘spook’ lover to step in, we saw her leave her job, withdraw from her husband, choose not to confide in her best friend, and try to put it behind her.

That was made impossible by her attacker’s insidious, strategic moves, each one orchestrated to discredit Yvonne should she report his crime. He first sent a cheery email, then flowers, then a flirtatious text… all designed to fabricate the idea of an affair instead of an attack. His efficiency was chilling, as was his breezy “home time” suggestion immediately after the rape, guiding his traumatised victim into a cab to undermine her even more. You can see his cold logic; after all, who shares a cab home with their rapist? It’s easy to imagine that question echoing around dinner party tables.

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That’s where this episode was most successful, when prodding commonly held assumptions about the so-called ‘proper’ behaviour of rapists and their victims. When Yvonne’s friend held court on why the women in sexual assault cases involving professional footballers shouldn’t necessarily be believed, she was the mouthpiece for a whole set of rape-culture-perpetuating attitudes. Putting those words in the mouth of a woman hammered home how culturally ingrained prejudices against rape survivors can be (not to mention the class prejudice visible in the host’s judgements).

All in all, it was a bleak hour that rang depressingly true. Like over eighty per cent of real-life sexual assault survivors, Yvonne didn’t report the attack. After her meeting with that expert, you might well see why. When a legal system permits a victim’s sexual history to be rummaged through in the attempt to discredit them, or fails to empathise with the idea that retaining evidence and reporting a crime within an ‘acceptable’ timetable may not be the first actions of a traumatised person, it’s little wonder. 

Knowing that her previous sexual encounter on the night of the attack would undermine her account of what happened and fearing for the pain it would put her family and vulnerable son through, Yvonne chose neither to go to the police nor to tell her husband. Instead, she confided in Mr X, adding an emotional depth to a relationship that started out as strictly about anonymity and illicit thrills.  

Anonymity and thrills don’t seem to feature in whatever it is that comes next, which promises to destroy Yvonne’s life even more thoroughly. We were left with an image of Yvonne in court being accused by a woman in the gallery of ruining her family. Who was that? Mr X’s wife? George Selway’s? We’ll have to come back next week to find out.

Apple Tree Yard might be at its most gripping when manipulating us with thriller cliff-hangers, but it’s at its most meaningful in the quieter moments. Emily Watson’s performance this week was affecting and convincing from start to finish. Yvonne’s pain and humiliation were always visible, even underneath a layer of ‘moving-on’ practicality. The most crushing line was her simple admission “I didn’t fight back”, revealing the perverse sense of responsibility rape victims so often take for the crimes committed against them.

As a thriller, so far Apple Tree Yard is fine. As a disheartening rape story, it’s empathetic and honest. Neither of those things have yet made it compulsive viewing, but the second earns it the right to our attention.

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Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.