A CAUTIONARY TALE
Apple Tree Yard is being lauded for its depiction of middle-aged female sexuality, but Deborah Hill Cone begs to disagree
Ihad the sub-titles turned on when I was watching the first episode of Apple Tree
Yard (kids). “His belt buckle rattles.” (Take note: weirdly loud belt. Macho?) She breathes heavily. Bucket rattles. (They are in a broom cupboard.) They pant and moan. Bucket continues to rattle. He moans. He moans loudly.
Afterwards, scientist Yvonne Carmichael, aged 50-something, who has just had sex with a handsome stranger while hanging on to a coat hook says: “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Dr Carmichael (oh yes, Doctor) is married, although her husband Gary signs his texts “see ya”, not even a kiss, so he deserves to be cheated on really, what with his working class name and the fact he doesn’t even seem to know that tins go in the recycling. Not to mention his boring sinuses: “What’s the name of the nose stuff? Drops. Gary.”
He has subtitles too. “He snores. A beat. Snoring continues. He grumbles.”
It’s pretty hard to compare “You don’t need to be home in time for the Tesco delivery” with “You’re beautiful. Take your knickers off.”
So yes, plot twist, soon Yvonne is back with Mr X in a cafe toilet. And a graveyard. And an alley way. (The eponymous Apple Tree Yard).
Subtitles: She pants. Belt buckle rattles. (Again.) They pant. He moans.
Later, while the couple are adjusting their clothes, two hot young girls walk past. They snigger. Yvonne crumples and tells Mr X they should stop the affair. She feels absurd.
“Well look at me! I’m middle aged and my body ... I look like a bloody jelly baby.”
Later Mr X signs his text “JBILF” “JBILF?” “Jelly baby I’d like to …” Just to catch you up, Apple Tree Yard is the hit drama about a middle-aged woman, an eminent scientist, played by Emily Watson. After giving evidence to a select committee she meets a handsome stranger (Ben Chaplin) who offers to give her a tour of little-seen parts, ahem, of the House of Commons.
“Have you seen the chapel in the crypt?” could become Private Eye’s new wink-wink leg opener (It used to be “They were upstairs discussing the Ugandan situation.”)
Without finding out his name, Yvonne succumbs — no, that’s the wrong word — enjoys, a kneetrembler in the broom closet. (It has a plaque commemorating how a suffragette hid there. This is not sordid; it’s made by the BBC) So begins Yvonne’s secret affair. In her respectable day-to-day life, Yvonne and husband Gary are boringly mating in captivity like upstanding Guardian readers who own the full complement of wooden salad bowls and Le Creuset cookware.
There is a swimming pool scene because shows about adultery always seem to denote sex with water (I guess no one likes it dry) but in this pool there are no discarded plasters or pesky disabled people.
Instead, there is a wacky best friend called Suzi, which gives Yvonne the chance to get her misgivings about her waning sexual capital on screen.
No matter how good our scaffolding — $400 highlights, Helmut Lang silk shirts, pelvic floor exercises, Guerlain foundation with flattering gold flakes — we are terrified we are not hot, we are not even JBILFs anymore.
Yvonne asks her friend: “Still attractive. Do you think that’s what they say about us?
She confides that sex with Mr X is “like being eaten by a wolf”. This could be an entry in the Bad Sex Award (“Heloïse has lost all sense of how she ought to behave ...”)
But on the contrary. I find it extremely horny. Not because of the heavy breathing but the fact there is so little talking.