Apple Tree Yard, Series Finale, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews
Apple Tree Yard, Series Finale, BBC One
Apple Tree Yard, Series Finale, BBC One
Emily Watson triumphs in punishing criminal melodrama
Guilty or not guilty? Dum dum, dum dum. No, it was not just in your imagination. As the axe hovered over the neck of Yvonne Carmichael at the climax of Apple Tree Yard, and the madam forewoman waited to deliver the jury’s verdict, there was an entirely synthetic and deeply irritating pause for dramatic effect. Guilty of the murder or manslaughter of George Selway? Dum dum. Dum dum. Or innocent? Dum dum. Perhaps Mrs Carmichael also found herself cursing Simon Cowell as the hideous grammar of his talent show bled into the doings of courtroom drama. Dum dum, dum dum. Over on ITV they’d have bunged a commercial break in the gap. Here we interrupt this review to announce that the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
Of course the verdict was never in doubt. A morality tale in which the middle-aged woman who strays is punished with rape and imprisonment? Well they can put such bile and filth in fancy books for the liberal elites but they can’t get away with it on primetime BBC One, with the commentariat at their keyboards primed to cry foul. Thus Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson), having been roughed up by a prosecuting barrister and sold down the river by Mark Costley (Ben Chaplin), was eventually freed to go home and face her slightly crumpy Gary (Mark Bonnar, pictured below with Watson) before redemption came in the form of a grandchild.The title of Louise Doughty’s novel alludes to the plant that got Adam and Eve into all that trouble. Original sin, the temptation to disobey one simple divine instruction, is a powerful tool for drama. Just ask Orpheus. Apple Tree Yard started off in the underworld of the House of Commons, a broom cupboard that is a shrine of female empowerment because suffragette Emily Wilding hid herself there on the night of the 1911 census. Mrs Carmichael took female empowerment down the more tabloid route of having a ding-dong with a dark handsome fantasist with a fetish for public knickerlessness.
As adapted by Amanda Coe, this intense melodrama boiled down to a courtroom confrontation in which the meaning of words was brutally scrutinised and manipulated by terrifying female barristers - Frances Tomelty played the one who monstered Costley, Lydia Leonard (pictured below) the nemesis of Yvonne. Moral: be careful not just what you wish for but what you say and to whom. Yvonne’s real crime turned out to be jaw-dropping gullibility. Chaplin had “don’t trust me” stencilled onto his frown lines, and shiftiness emanating in rays from those nut-brown pupils. “Please at least tell me that the sex was good,” said Susannah the sidekick (Susan Lynch) in a grating moment of levity.Anyone with a knowledge of criminal law will be queuing up to poke holes in the trial. The most obvious anomaly was the notion of a murder suspect being released on bail. Also the dramatic revelation that Costley wasn’t in MI5 but something in compliance would have long since been disclosed by his legal counsel, rather than kept for the climax of episode three. On the plus side, the script extracted much fascinating juice out of slippery psychiatric definitions subjected to pitiless legal cross-examination.
The drama of the final episode hinged on Yvonne’s decision to make eyes at Gary, who seemed to take the whole trial rather breezily ("All OK this afternoon?" he vaguely asked her over the phone). Costley, seeing himself excluded, coldly decided to change his story and mention the bit about the titular back alley. No one does slow, spine-chilling disquiet like Watson, and she didn't half do it here. She could almost make you believe that Yvonne would do a spot of prison visiting to clear the air. Awards acting gongs all round. But on the bigger issue of emotional plausibility, and the half-baked reveal in the pillow talk at the very end, the jury's a little more split.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?