I’d read, earlier in the week, about the BBC’s new four-part Sunday night psychological thriller, Apple Tree Yard, which started yesterday evening. It stars Emily Watson, who had pre-interviewed it, plugging the way it deals with sexual impulses in respect of older women which, given that Emily Watson looks impressively attractive in her very early 50s, caught my attention in a very shallow sort of manner.
However, approximately halfway into the first episode, I switched off and will not be returning.
I was extremely dubious from the outset. The opening scene focuses on Watson, as scientist Yvonne Carmichael, musing about the events of her recent past as she crosses the Thames, looking out on the river and the craft on it, and the London scenes beyond. It’s made to look like any everyday commute by a professional woman, until the vehicle she’s in pulls up sharply, Yvonne is flung forward, she puts out her hands to brace herself, and we see that she’s in handcuffs.
She is actually traveling in a prison van, on her way to court, to be tried for murder.
Visually, it’s a very cleverly scene, presented in a naturalistic manner that makes the revelation a genuine shock, and an effective teaser for the audience. From there, we go back nine months (a pregnant period, appropriate since this all derives from a sexual incident, though the period of gestation is not disclosed to the audience in the part I watched).
But Yvonne’s voiceover is an utter disaster. It is so badly written, combining both a tin ear for natural human speech and an inability to escape from cliche that I started off with very great reservations, that, for the rest of the next twenty-five minutes or so, the writing only went further to nourish.
Yvonne is a scientific adviser who we first meet addressing a Parliamentary Select Committee about genetic manipulations. On her way out, a seeming Civil Servant (Ben Chaplin) starts chatting her up, takes her downstairs to view this private chapel and basically shags her up against the wall in the equivalent of a broom closet. Steaminess is accomplished by a couple of quick shots of the handsome stranger helping Yvonne get her tights and knickers off her feet, no flesh above the shinbone being exposed. The right wing press obviously has lower standards for sexual arousal than I have.
There is the exceedingly cliched dialogue about how Yvonne’s never done anything like this before, in the most cliched form possible with no attempt to try to deliver the words in any less banal form.
Yvonne is happily married to a University lecturer who is currently being drunkenly pursued by his Research Assistant (young, female) and very embarrassed by it. She has an adult daughter who announces her pregnancy, to Yvonne’s evident disappointment at the career break this will necessitate. She has a married female friend who is having issues with her husband, who she gets drunk with in a wine barwhilst being mysterious about her own life and husband in a manner that would immediately cause any semi-sentient woman to suspect her mate has been shagging about, but of course her friend doesn’t twig.
But Yvonne has been supercharged by this shag, and starts haunting Westminster in a most teenage manner, hoping to bump into her shagger again, which she does. The two head off to find another broom closet in which to re-shag, but before they got far, I’d turned off in boredom.
So far, the background and the minimal story to date has been a compilation of middle-class cliche differing only from the run-of-the-mill equivalent by ageing Yvonne about twelve to fifteen years above the standard age, which is not innovative. The writing is flat and dull, and shows no personality, and who Yvonne murders, and how guilty she may or may not be of it, is of correspondingly little interest if she and everyone about her is no more than a stereotypical figure, talking in rote manner.
But Emily Watson does look very good at her age, and I could be persuaded to be discernibly jealous of Ben Chaplin (but only to the extent that he is performing with Emily Watson, not Yvonne Carmichael).