Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 4

This series ends on the dramatic high the BBC promised before it aired. The courtroom tension that followed in the final hour was so fraught because of the humiliation female characters had to endure.

First up was DS Johns, a police officer that had a working relationship with the ever-dependable non-Spook Costley. She was cross-examined if his behaviour altered during the weeks in question.

She said, “no.”

So, Costley’s own barrister went in hard. Now, I’m no legal expert. But I’m pretty sure in court, you can’t get away with shocking language if you add the precursor: “To use a colloquial term.” But apparently you can, as she was asked, “did he finger you.”

I mean, come on. Just ask in the politest possible way what happened.

Turns out Costley had quickly moved on from Yvonne and was acting inappropriately elsewhere. All building up a picture of an unstable man. Professionals in various psychiatric fields argued the merits of his personality disorder.

As if the treatment of DS Johns wasn’t bad enough, the onslaught continued when Yvonne took to the stand. She broke down, delivering the impact of why she was scared of reporting the rape. When the same barrister delivered the bombshell she’d lied about the affair, her credibility lay in tatters.

But as rightly pointed out, that lie doesn’t mean her ordeal should be dismissed or that she coldly plotted a murder.

We headed to the obvious conclusion but as seems to be the modern way, we needed a twist. Over the weeks we have relied on Yvonne’s narration, her recollection of events. In a closing scene, we see her visit Mark in prison. He says he never told, that he kept the secret.

His inability to separate fact from fiction extended to throwaway remarks.

A solid finish to a series with a shaky start.

8/10

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Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 3

It’s the show that continues to get better, episode-by-episode. The third instalment sees the real issues take centre stage. And it’s all the better for it. A show that was uncomfortable to watch in the first moments because it was cringe is now difficult because of the gravitas of its message.

Last week’s dart from George’s house is now explained. Mr Conspiracy here shouldn’t have focused on disinterested dogs in the window. That canine was conveniently ignoring a brutal beating that led to George’s death.

Yep, the “Spook” took things too far and ensured the rapist couldn’t bother Yvonne ever again.

The police pitch up when she’s in a restaurant with her family, where she shares a touching kiss with husband Gary, and arrest her on suspicion of murder.

Still, the law here says if they plotted it together, if she had foreknowledge, she’s as guilty as the man putting the boot in. For his part, Mark Costley pleads manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Sprinkle in a personality disorder claim, and he was big step to avoiding a full murder conviction.

This should have all been great news for Yvonne. With Mark saying he lost his mind, and literally has a few personas on the go to lose, she has a stronger case to say she was unaware.

Wouldn’t make for great telly though, would it, a clear-cut case?
The problems arise when she posts bail (hubby generates £100k to do so) but she breaks the terms of it by responding to a Costley text message. That really was costly.

The courtroom drama was decent. It was interesting and gratifying to see Costley deconstructed. His character was always slightly off-kilter. Now we are made to question if this really is his persona. The links to the intelligence service are revealed: he failed selection.

This leaves Yvonne questioning everything she thought she knew while trying to maintain the façade they were just friends. That can’t end well . . . especially when Costley got a bit of the old green eye watching Yvonne interact with Gary in court.

7/10

Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 2

After a dubious beginning, episode two of Apple Tree Yard dispenses with the elements that dragged it down and the main story starts to get traction. The payoff for this is the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of television I can recall ever experiencing.

Yvonne is trying her best to cope with the rape. She feigns illness to give herself space from her husband, while seeking counsel from Mark Costley. He hooks her up with an expert about how to proceed should she wish to prosecute George for the crime.

Problem is, time has elapsed, the DNA evidence now washed away, and he warns that her whole life would be placed under a microscope. This is enough to make her decide against any formal action.

She decides to leave her job and end the affair with Costley, explaining she can’t see herself ever wanting sex again and theirs was just a lustful encounter.

Another problem develops when it seems George is beginning to stalk her. He’s sending texts from unknown phones and flowers with quaint messages. So she turns to Costley for support. He is a Spook after all, right?

The series hinges on where it goes from here. As a viewer, suspicions should be high. Why couldn’t Costley – a would-be Bond – get to George straight away? When he finally pays him a visit, he casually walks into the house and the dog in the window never pays any notice (familiar face?).

We are reminded at the close of the show Yvonne is on trial in the future. But for what? Was she being used as a puppet of sorts or did she take revenge too far?

6/10

Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 1

As part of the BBC Drama drive, Apple Tree Yard comes to our screens. The Louise Doughty novel it’s adapted from is described as an erotically charged thriller, can Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin bring that spark to the screen?

Watson portrays Dr Yvonne Carmichael, a clever geneticist that starts the episode giving a speech to a bunch of politicians in the House of Commons. When it ends, she gets chatting to Chaplin’s Mark Costley (Dickens-esq naming of characters?), rather than exit, he shows her to a secret area used for functions (even weddings).

In a broom cupboard, they have a good old fashioned quickie. To add a sense of spontaneity, Mark gets the job done with his foot in a mop bucket.

To be fair, at this point it feels charged enough. Had it lived up to the adverts, it would have been a good platform. But then the thriller of the novel becomes a soap opera. We see Yvonne unhappy at home, her husband is probably having an affair, so naturally she goes hunting Costley.

He likes danger sex in public, she just likes him. That’s what turns her on – him. She actually explains this to Mark. By the time he’s throwing another one up in Apple Tree Yard, you really don’t care if her marriage fails, who Mark Costley really is (she thinks he’s a “Spook” for MI6).

We know the story is told retrospectively as we saw the present-day Yvonne handcuffed at the start, so there had to be more to the story than an average looking middle aged woman having indecent sex in public.

Then comes a work’s party, her husband away, and a colleague named George that knows she’s having an affair and uses it as leverage to make a move on her. She rejects and a violent rape scene occurs. Being the BBC, we have to assume they would never use such a delicate subject purely for shock value but it’s misguided allowing it to take place in such a pedestrian and poorly conceived drama.

It gives Yvonne motive for revenge now but it’s distasteful that the BBC would use rape as a cliff-hanger for what’s to come next.

Hopefully the first chapter was an awkward world setting requirement and improvements are inbound.

4/10

ITV WOS Wrestling – Review

New Year’s Eve saw ITV revive a nostalgic brand: World of Sport Wrestling. Those of a certain age will remember Saturday evenings watching Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks – and my personal favourite, who can probably take some credit for how I’ve spent my professional career hidden behind a mask – Kendo Nagasaki. It’s just dawned on me, my years chasing fame in Japan could be down to my first exposure to professional wrestling. The original WOS Wrestling was pulled in the mid-eighties, followed by Wrestling with Kent Walton. The question is: does the TV schedule have room for it today?

There was room for it back in 1988 when wrestling left our screens. Hindsight is 20/20 but producers must look back on that decision and kick themselves. A year later the WWE (then known as WWF) started its UK invasion. It grew so fast in popularity here, SummerSlam was held at Wembley stadium in 1992. Over 80,000 fans witnessed The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith take the Intercontinental Championship from Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

Had a channel retained UK wrestling, maybe the WWE would have had a genuine transatlantic rival. We’ll never know, but by passing up on wrestling, the UK television networks gave up all creative control. Vince McMahon designed the blueprint, defeated his only challenger WCW (ironically, they aired on ITV in the nineties), and every wrestling organisation since has fallen into line.

ITV clearly has been watching WWE. From the opening minutes of WOS Wrestling it becomes obvious. The set has good production values, without the scale of WWE. It’s a mix of their take on Gladiators and a clinical TNA set. The game changer is having Jim Ross on commentary. The voice synonymous with a whole generation of WWE.

ITV may have watched WWE but what follows is veiled flattery. Vince’s outfit has gone from the cartoony version of wrestling it brought to the world when WOS Wrestling ended in the eighties, through the adult-rated Attitude Era, to the PG and Reality Era. That current landscape means a pre-watershed wrestling show can survive on telly. During this evolution the term: sports entertainment was coined.

The problem with WOS Wrestling is how it tries to pay homage to the old stars like Big Daddy with constant reminders, evoking nostalgia, but accidentally makes one nostalgic for an antiquated version of pro-wrestling in the form of old school WWF.

Nowadays a wrestling show is all about the storylines and mic work. ITV went for the owner angle, a Mr Beesley that ran things. Okay, so we get a British Jack Tunney. Beesley’s “office” was propped with posters indicating it was just a spare room at MediaCityUK.

The first match saw Grado get screwed out of the WOS Championship by bad guy Dave Mastiff. This, in itself, was great. Mastiff was the clear heel, he had two henchmen in tow and he and Grado told a classic tale of favoured underdog holding his own.

Nowadays clear heels and faces are rare in professional wrestling, this throwback was fine and a necessity with a less savvy audience. What wasn’t great was the way Beesley said he couldn’t let a screwjob stand for the title and declared Mastiff would defend it at the end of the show against the winner of a Battle Royal.

Okay, anyone that was watched wrestling long enough knows that if a title (in this case, the only title) kicks-off a show, we’re not getting a clean finish. So the surprise was gone from the off. The idea all dodgy finishes will be challenged is flawed. The acting with Beesley was from a bygone era.

And that is WOS Wrestling’s major problem. It doesn’t know if it’s a programme that should be like its eighties counterpart, or one that can be compared to modern day WWE.

They edged toward the latter with a ladder match. Kenny Williams took the result, he looked better than the rest based on ability and aesthetics. But the other three, CJ Banks, Sam Bailey (not The X Factor singer) and Delicious Danny, all deserve a round of applause for pulling off a dangerous match with tea-time restrictions.

The other main standout – no, not El Ligero, although he was good – was Alexis Rose. She looked the part and moved around the ring well. WWE’s current British female wrestler is in the bad books. Rose would be worth a shot in their performance centre.

alexis-rose

The Battle Royal had a secret entrant (that joined late for no good reason). It was The new British Bulldog, the son of Davey Boy, now using his name with Jnr added. He didn’t progress to the title bout. Presumably, ITV aren’t confident they could tie him down should the show go fulltime so can’t afford to have a champion MIA.

Of course, Grado won the Battle Royal and then the title match. Classic babyface overcoming the odds in the end. Cheating never pays, kids.

ITV must have an eye on a permanent return, why bring back the title otherwise? Based on this, there is plenty of potential that deserves exploring but they need a creative team more akin to the modern era of wrestling. Without this, WOS Wrestling would grow stale fast.

Promising but work to be done.

6/10

(Follow @MrCliveBalls on Twitter. He points out, he is available to do creative work for Sports Entertainment outfits.)