Dra­mas to stim­u­late your thinking

Ap­ple Tree Yard cracks along, while The Hand­maid’s Tale is bru­tal, grip­ping and ter­ri­bly de­press­ing.

The Press - The Box - - VIEWING GUIDE -

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.

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