Apple Tree Yard (2017)
20th February 2017
Married with two grown-up children, Yvonne Carmichael is a highly esteemed geneticist working at the Beaufort institute; one of the most respected institutions in her field. With the children having "fled the nest", she lives a contented, conventional suburban life with her husband Gary. Gary is a successful and respected scientist, but totally absorbed by his work. He is full of self-assurance that makes him even more attractive to his colleagues and students. It's not something that goes unnoticed and Yvonne is jealous of his success and is a source of anxiety and self-doubt. Tensions between the pair are constantly bubbling beneath the surface - even more so as Yvonne thinks he is having an affair with his assistant Rosa.
After giving a presentation to a select committee in the House of Commons, Yvonne bumps into a mysterious, and smartly dressed, man in the hallway. He'd been impressed with her talk and offers her a VIP tour of the Secret Chapel of the Commons. Flattered by the attention, and taking an instant liking to him, she accepts his offer. One thing leads to another and they end up having sex in the broom cupboard where suffragette Emily Davison hid overnight so she could put down her address as the House of Commons in the census.
The next day, unable to get the encounter out of her head, and with the hope of bumping into "Mr. X", Yvonne returns to the commons and gains entry by claiming she had left her scarf. Unfortunately, she fails to find him, instead ending up in a cafe opposite the Commons before finally spotting him and inviting him for coffee. Thrilled by their previous encounter, the pair end up having sex in the toilets, exchange telephone numbers and begin an affair fuelled by the thrill of having sex in a public place. And with "Mr. X" unwilling to reveal his true identity, and with apparent knowledge of the surveillance cameras in the area, it fuels Yvonne's desires and excitement even further - and to note that she's "screwing a spook".
But one night, after another illicit meeting with "Mr. X", Yvonne attends a leaving party for one of her work colleagues. During the party, she is approached by a long-term friend, George. He knows about the affair and, when she rejects his advances, he rapes her. In fear of revealing her affair, Yvonne doesn't report the incident to the police, but also decides against continuing with the affair. But when George starts to stalk her, "Mr. X" offers to help Yvonne resolve the problem - and that's when her problems really begin...
Apple Tree Yard is available on both Blu-ray and DVD, but we're reviewing the Blu-ray here. Filmed in high-definition and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and with the AVC codec, it looks a bit of a stunner too - and it's made all the more surprising by the fact it's a television series and not some sort of big budget blockbuster.
Blacks (of which there are plenty in the dark alleyways, cupboards and bedrooms) are superb throughout. They are deep and solid, and with good contrast levels too. Given the vast number of dark interior scenes it's great to find a disc which excels in the picture department. There are no signs of artifacting or outlining and the brighter exterior, or artificially lit, scenes such as cafes or restaurants are faithfully reproduced with sharp images, excellent flesh tones and wonderful levels of detail.
There have been a suprising number of recent complaints about the sound quality of various BBC television shows, including where viewers have been unable to hear dialogue due to overpowering musical scores or, more recently, mumbling actors in SS-GB. Fortunately, there's no issues here, with the Blu-ray coming equipped with a rather supberb DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
Upon spinning up the disc I wasn't expecting too much from the sound department, after all, it's only a made for television production. Never the less, I was pleasantly suprised to discover a rather dynamic audio track, with plentiful use of the surround channels, a booming LFE channel via the dramatic musical score plus some superb stereo steerage in the front channels with the dialogue firmly locked to the centre channel. Good stuff indeed - and definitely one for the home cinema setup to have a crack at, and given the small price premium of Blu-ray over the DVD, it'll be money well spent.
Other than short trailers for the excellent The Saboteurs and River, the disc contains no other additional material. Even the menu system is rather plain and boring; static, but with some weird and spooky sounding ambinent music from the programme. I guess they're trying to set the mood...
Ordinarily, I'd be the first to complain about a lack of extras. However, for a programme such as this, and one outside of distributor Arrow Film's hands, I doubt the production company Kudos Film & Television would have had anything available for use - especially since the series was commissioned for the BBC. Given the value for money that the BBC will be seeking, I'd be suprised if there'd any budget for disposable coffee cups, let alone interviews with the cast and crew.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, if you've never read the book then the opening five minutes really do set a surprising scene for the rest of the series. It was most unexpected and certainly made me sit up and take interest of what was about to be revealed.
However, even though it is only four episodes, and large sections of the original book have been skipped over, it did have a tendency to drag at times. It was only the shocking scenes at the end of the first episode that rekindled my diminishing interest, which again then began to wane until the final episode of the series. It's definitely a rollercoaster of a programme!
Given that the series was shown in the BBC it didn't take long for the complaints to roll in over the controversial rape scene. Since the story revolves around that shocking scene, and being raped is hardly going to be a cordial affair where people shake hands afterwards, I do not see why various rape charities had to complain about its "shocking nature". After all, it must have helped to highlight their cause and the dreadful effects such a crime has on the individual. The scene was a success because it achieved the desired result - to shock the viewer and start a debate. Since when did we have to start tip-toeing around real life in case it caused offense?
So, if you like your crime thrillers to be alfresco and sexy - and with broom cupboards to boot - then Apple Tree Yard is definitely one for you. Just be prepared to hang on in there and sit out some of the more laborious moments. It'll be worth it - especially for the final twist that'll leave you gobsmacked...