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

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

Moonlight – Review

Thanks to Odeon’s Screen Unseen, I was able to see Moonlight earlier than most in the UK. It was a great surprise and afterwards make me realise something else – even more surprising – it isn’t the frontrunner for this year’s Academy Awards.

Let’s cut to the chase right there: Moonlight deserves to take home a lion’s share of the Oscars. It isn’t because it’s edgy or brave, it’s because it’s well-made, beautifully told, expertly acted. The content almost becomes secondary.

It follows the lead character through three stages of his life, divided here into chapters titled after his changing name. He starts as Little, a shy and reclusive boy that is victim to bullying. While it may be questionable that at such a young age, his peers would detect a difference in sexuality, it is the implied reason for the bullying.

He befriends drug dealer, Juan. He gives the boy a few insights, introduces him to his warm girlfriend, Teresa, and offers an alternative view that his crack addicted mother provides. That’s a bit of a niggle, the man he trusts is also the man selling the product that is ruining his home life.

Naomie Harris plays his mother, Paula, and it’s a testament to her acting prowess that a real-life teetotaller is more believable as a crack addict than as Naomie Harris in interviews. The general consensus is that she delivers the performance of the film but I find it debatable.

By high school, Little becomes Chiron, child actor Alex Hibbert becomes Ashton Sanders and it’s entirely believable they are one and the same. Here the bullies are more violent, the sexual desire more pressing. His mother’s addiction more crippling. Teresa his only safe haven following the passing of Juan.

By the third act we meet a redefined Chiron, now named Black, a hangover nickname from his best friend, turned sexual outlet, Kevin. He now runs the street, has beefed up and has a gangster vibe. Wearing a hat like Juan, he has inhabited the underworld (albeit in a different city) that shaped his early years.

At first, the change in character is jarring but it slowly sticks. Chiron still lacks the ability to string together long sentences and is, for all intents and purposes, an outcast. Beneath his new look, the same little boy exists.

I don’t see it as a film about sexuality or race or social class. It’s a story about Little aka Chiron aka Black. Society relies too much on labels and uses them too readily. This proves the world is just people. Different people with different struggles that shouldn’t be defined by pigeon holing.

It works, and deserves accolades, for the way it allows the viewer to connect with Chiron.

9/10