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Apple Tree Yard: Emily Watson's character defends rape victims in powerful dinner party comeback

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Anna Pollitt
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Contains spoilers relating to the first two episodes of BBC One’s Apple Tree Yard – catch up on iPlayer 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of millions of Sunday night settee-inhabitants caught in the grip of BBC One’s Apple Tree Yard – a four-part psychological thriller adapted from Louise Doughty’s bestselling book. As if the show's not tense enough, for those who haven't read Doughty’s book the spectre of a major Twitter spoiler lingers permanently in the background.

Only two more weeks to go, so try to hang in there.



Following an explosive opener that deals starkly with potent themes of sexual desire, betrayal and rape, part two tackles the aftermath of protagonist Dr Yvonne Carmichael's violent attack at the hands of a colleague. An eminent geneticist and a married mother-of-two (expertly portrayed by Emily Watson) she initially avoids reporting the rape to police, fearing it will expose her wild, brief affair with a stranger (Ben Chaplin) and subsequently unravel her career and home life.

One of the stand-out scenes from episode two comes during a dinner party gathering of 40 and 50-somethings begrudgingly attended by Carmichael and her husband Gary (Mark Bonnar) at their friend Marcia’s home.



With wine flowing and Carmichael internalising her horrific ordeal, she hears their host scoffing at the idea a woman can be forced to perform oral sex on a man.

"How can you force someone to give you a blow job? I mean wouldn't you just bite it off?" Marcia opines.

"It's bad enough men peddling crap like that without women making it worse," Carmichael fires back.

Marcia, of course representing the ignorance, cynicism and lack of empathy reserved by some for sex assault victims, persists: "Just saying! Logistically I'm surprised it doesn't happen."

"They're terrified," Carmichael responds witheringly.

But she’s not done. Delivered with a raw, masterful edge that’s sure to put Watson in the running for a BAFTA, she continues: "I'm sorry, you're lovely. And your house is lovely and you give lovely dinner parties and everything in your world is lovely so you don't really have the imagination to see what it's like when bad things happen.

"So randomly, great torrents of shit descending on ordinary people, you're looking for who's to blame because that's less scary than facing up to the fact that awful things can happen, even to someone as lovely as you. Really awful things."



Carmichael’s speech comes as the viewer is still reeling from witnessing her endure a sickening assault and acts as a stark reminder that it’s still socially acceptable to make sweeping statements placing the responsibility for sex assaults onto women.

Done with a subtle authority and coming from an unexpected source - a middle-aged, middle-class woman - the scene demonstrates that gender is no barrier to ignorance and shows how society has failed to shake off historically unfair assessments of women’s clothes, behaviour, sex life and alcohol consumption as factors in considering their “eligibility” as victims.

Susannah Doyle

Susannah Doyle plays dinner party host Marcia

It’s worth noting that Carmichael is the only person to challenge Marcia’s comments – and it’s reasonable to guess that perhaps she wouldn’t have bothered had she herself not been attacked. Later on she even vows to call her host to apologise for what her fellow guests and her own husband clearly viewed as a faux pas on her part. 

Nonetheless, it’s our protagonist’s unwelcome insight into surviving rape that lends a voice to many of the anonymous victims we encounter daily in news reports. Only last year a court in the US ruled that forced oral sex on a person passed out drunk is not rape, while last week, four British police officers were sacked for making obscene jokes about a rape victim. The three men and a woman at Bedford Police mistakenly phoned the victim while they were mockingly discussing the most intimate and harrowing aspects of her assault.

Fans of the show supported Carmichael’s dinner party takedown on Twitter:

The penultimate episode of Apple Tree Yard will be shown at 9pm on Sunday 5 February on BBC One.

Images: BBC/Apple Tree Yard

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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at Stylist.co.uk, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant. The baby is borrowed.

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