If there’s two things Apple Tree Yard, adapted from Louise Doughty’s novel, isn’t short of, that’s pace and tension so it’s a shame it lacked credibility here and there. Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson) is a high-flying middle-aged geneticist who advises the government. One day, as she’s leaving the House of Commons select committee, where she’s just given evidence, she’s accosted by a handsome stranger (Ben Chaplin) who had clearly been in the committee room at the same time and he offers to show her a secret crypt in the Commons basement. Within minutes they are having steamy sex inside a broom cupboard and she doesn’t even know his name (see what I mean about credibility?).
Yvonne doesn’t seem the type to have an affair, let alone anonymous sex with a stranger she met only 10 minutes earlier – she’s got two grown-up kids and an academic husband, Gary (Mark Bonnar) and lives in one of those lovely big houses that the chattering classes of Islington tend to live in. But Gary is a serial philanderer who pursues his students, so perhaps Yvonne just fancies a bit of revenge. Anyway, she and Mr X, who turns out to be called Mark Costley, embark on their affair, which mainly consists of risky sex in unusual places including the aforementioned Apple Tree Yard.
Yvonne is brutally raped by a colleague one night at a work do and rather than report it to the police she turns to Mark, as she believes he is a spook and might be able to help. Her rapist colleague also starts stalking her so Mark offers to “have a word with him” at his home, while Yvonne waits in the car. And next thing, she’s being arrested on a joint murder charge and her world starts to unravel. She’s forced to tell Gary about the rape and the affair, she loses her job and her case looks hopeless. The Crown Court trial suddenly starts to go her way though and she’s acquitted.
Watson and Chaplin’s electric on-screen chemistry drives the plotline, which explores moral values and the choices we make. Yvonne’s decision not to report the rape is not unusual but has consequences when she asks Mark to take the law into his own hands. Mark is shown as almost completely lacking morals and Gary is clearly short of a few. If you look beneath the sex plotline, this story is very much about the consequences of unethical decisions.
Much has been made of Apple Tree Yard being a female-led production and story. Written by a woman, adapted by a woman, directed by a woman and with a female lead actor in Watson who is one of the finest of her generation. And lots of thumbs up everywhere for the depiction on screen of a woman in mid-life having sex and enjoying it – indeed, having agency in the sex she’s having. So it’s really tiresome that an otherwise rather good thriller revisits the trope that women must be punished for having great sex. Yvonne is punished with a brutal rape, an arrest and murder charge and the loss of her career. That’s quite a lot for a few illicit shags in a broom cupboard and a couple of cul-de-sacs. Most adulterous women wouldn’t even be punished with an STI.
That aside, the final episode closes with an absolutely stonking twist that is more than satisfying enough to almost overlook the above irritation.
• Also available on Blu-ray