Dramas to stimulate your thinking
Apple Tree Yard cracks along, while The Handmaid’s Tale is brutal, gripping and terribly depressing.
British thriller Apple Tree Yard (Sundays, 8.30pm, TVNZ1) opens with Dr Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson), handcuffed in the back of a police van.
‘‘Fear makes animals of us all’’ she muses. Flash back to a few months earlier. There she is, a respected scientist, giving advice on genetic engineering to a Parliamentary Select Committee. It’s an effective way of hooking in the viewer. How can you not want to know how Yvonne’s life has spun out of control? She’s got a great career, two grown-up kids and a lovely London home where she lives with her husband. And despite this seemingly respectable life, just minutes after her appearance in front of the Select Committee, Yvonne is getting steamy with a stranger, Mark (Ben Chaplin), in hidden historical spots of the Houses of Parliament.
’’Sex with you is like being eaten by a wolf,’’ she types breathlessly as she recounts events to her laptop. It’s an odd summary of such an encounter, but it’s apparently positive because soon she’s skulking around trying to bump into the wolf again.
But Mark is a bit hazy on details, except those relating to security cameras, of which he seems to have a comprehensive knowledge. You might think that sounds like a potentially very dull date, but it seems to work for Yvonne.
In fact, she’s soon acting like a giggly teenage girl. And, I’ll be honest, I found it irritating. Sure, I get it, she’s flattered to be noticed, she’s thrilled to be sexually desirable at this stage in life when she feels her body is like a ‘‘jelly baby’’. But why can’t she embrace this affair in a way that is more fitting with who she is? It just feels like her reactions, giggling at herself in the mirror and texting like a teenager, make her feel like more of a vehicle for the plot than a real person.
But, the story itself is good enough to carry this flaw. It cracks along with rarely a dull moment and by the end of episode one we’re left with a stack of unanswered questions. Yvonne’s life is spiralling out of control, but there’s also the feeling that there’s something more ominous and powerful at work here and you really do want to keep watching.
In The Handmaid’s Tale (available on Lightbox), women don’t have the opportunity to make any bad decisions. Adapted from the famous novel by Margaret Atwood, events are set in the future when declining human fertility has seen a return to fundamentalist religious values and fertile women are forced to reproduce for powerful couples unable to do so.
From the opening, it’s brutal, gripping and terribly depressing. I know, that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I mean it in a good way. It’s beautifully filmed, with terrific performances.
And if you think it’s all a bit farfetched, Atwood has said the things that happen to women in the book have all happened at some time, somewhere in the real world. Thought-provoking stuff.
Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson star in the intriguing British drama Apple Tree Yard.
The Handmaid’s Tale is beautifully filmed and boasts terrific performances.