Review: Apple Tree Yard (S1 E4/4), Monday 6th February, BBC1

Programme Name: Apple Tree Yard - TX: 06/02/2017 - Episode: Apple Tree Yard - Ep4 (No. 4) - Picture Shows: Yvonne Carmichael (EMILY WATSON) - (C) Kudos - Photographer: Nick Briggs
(C) Kudos – Photographer: Nick Briggs

One thing you can say about Apple Tree Yard is that it has really put its central character – Dr Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson, on excellent form) – through the mill. Not only has she gone against type and undertaken an illicit, lustful affair with a mystery man called Mark Costley, but she has been brutally raped, stalked and terrorised and now accused of the murder of her attacker. That’s quite a rabbit hole she has been plunged into. Tonight was the night we found out if she was guilty of the crime or not – and I was convinced that there were more twists to come.

The majority of this final episode was spent in the courtroom, with the build-up to Yvonne’s cross-examination bubbling below the surface. The big question, of course, was whether Yvonne would be able to not only get away with a not guilty verdict but also get away with lying about the nature of her ‘friendship’ with Mark Costley. This was one of the aspects of the case, or at least the aftermath of the Selway incident, that made me a bit nervous and uninvested in the story – it has seemed to me faintly ridiculous that someone of Yvonne Carmichael’s intellect and nature that she should lie in court. I understand why she would want to cover-up the affair at all costs, but a liar in court? It just didn’t sit right with me.

To begin with, we were treated to a dissemination of Costley’s personality, finally finding out what really drove him. As if we didn’t know: he was revealed to have had sexual relations (taking place in a pub, naturally) with a female security officer colleague (or was she a copper, I wasn’t quite sure). It seems Mark Costley, whose personality disorder was debated extensively without too much conclusion, enjoyed sexual encounters with women in public places. Was this for show? Did he get off on these shows of borderline exhibitionism? Yes, he worked as a security consultant, but, after these revelations of serial sexual encounters, he seemed to enjoy flouting these brushes with the very types of security he was tasked to implement and maintain. It was an interesting dichotomy.

As was the notion of security, and what it meant to Yvonne Carmichael.

Her life was the very definition of secure: an affluent, liberal household, full of science and intellect and safety. The fact that she went against all this to plunge herself into a dangerous situation made her life so insecure: as she admitted in her narration, perhaps she was waiting to be found; perhaps this security was too stifling and she wanted more, wanted that danger. And perhaps this was the message in this series – be careful what you wish for. (And no, I’m talking about an horrific sexual attack, I’m talking about the fire and passion an illicit affair can bring.) But what message did this convey? If you get involved in an affair and get your va-va-voom back, does this mean that you suddenly attract nutcases? On the surface, I’m sure some people would indeed assume this, but I found this to be one of the clever ways Apple Tree Yard addressed the issue of the judgement of women in society: sadly, a woman enjoying sex (whatever the type or context) is often seen a slutty and, to some deranged, belittled men, they feel the need to beat this life, this vital energy down and control it.

But back to the courtroom. Costley, seeing a supportive smile and nod from Gary in the gallery towards his wife in the dock, felt scorned and decided to go against The Plan of sticking to The Plan: he told his aggressive defence team about the affair with Yvonne, and some of its intimate details. The QC went for Yvonne and she had no choice to reveal the affair, with Gary watching and all. Emily Watson was once again excellent in these scenes: her recounting of the rape was extremely moving and heartbreaking, while her shock and horror at Costley’s QC revealing the nature of her friendship with him was, well, a picture. She’s a very fine actress, and always has been.

In fact, you could make an argument for Watson out-acting everyone in this.

In the end despite all the revelations, Costley was found guilty of manslaughter but not murder, and Yvonne was found not-guilty on both counts (although she was done for perjury). But there was more – there had to be. The ‘big’ twist at the end came when Yvonne visited Costley in prison. She told him that she had never been a very important scientist (she hadn’t had anything published in years), and her voiceover then told us that “if all relationships are stories, ours won’t have a happy ending”. A flashback showed her laughing and joking in bed with him at the safe house, saying she wanted him to “kill him and kick his fucking face in”.

It was Yvonne who had manipulated Costley into killing Selway, using his own alpha male impulses to turn away from her and direct them at her attacker. A morally ambiguous twist, that was ambiguously presented: I had to watch the ending again twice just to figure out whether Yvonne had been joking in that safe house and Costley, again acting on his territorial, machismo impulses, did the rest.

Who had been manipulating who? Was anyone manipulating anyone? Did Yvonne make a decision to use Costley to punish Selway on her behalf? Had she been an unreliable narrator right fromt he start?

As Yvonne said, the truth in relationships are often distorted to serve one or another, and that relationships are stories.

I liked the fact this twist made me think and wasn’t as clear-cut as some of the tweeters had made it out to be, but in the end Apple Tree Yard worked best for me as an examination of sex and gender and the politics within relationships rather than a mystery. It made some interesting points about how women are supposed to act at a particular age, and how women are always judged by their sexual history and indeed their current sexual experiences. But, crucially, I didn’t love Apple Tree Yard because the central characters, their relationship and their behaviour didn’t ring true and weren’t things I could believe in. I just didn’t buy Yvonne and Costley right from the start.

So, for me, Apple Tree Yard was a solid if not totally all-encompassing domestic noir with a fantastic central performance from Emily Watson.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review, go here

For our episode two review, go here

For our episode three review, go here



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sara Latham says:

    I agree with much of what you say. The ambiguity at the end was refreshing, I thought, given that much of the content of last 2 episodes was rather hard to believe. It seems Yvonne said she wanted Selway beaten or even dead, and seemingly would take delight in the thought of Mark ‘smashing his face in’, I’m sure on one level she meant it but did she actually want him to do it in reality? I don’t think so. Why did Mark actually go that far? Did he intend to? (did he want to fulfil the hero figure?) or was he provoked by Selway when he went to the flat or did he really have a personality disorder that pushed him over the edge? Who knows – it was far fetched, but somehow that didn’t really matter because it was all about the boundaries between them. I didn’t blame him for telling the truth – somehow it seemed the right thing (in court after all) even though he tried to protect her. I felt for her hugely over the rape. When she lied about the affair she sunk herself (she assumed too much, thought he would protect her to the end – and of course ultimately he did) and my god you could feel her humiliation when it came out – great scene and performance from EW.

    Interesting, thought provoking, but ultimately quite flawed as a plot for me.


  2. I have written a review of this and have some different opinions! Would be great if you could have a look :)


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Nice one Millie!

      Liked by 1 person

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