PINING for The Night Manager? Need another fix of a bare-chested Poldark? Well, the BBC is about to satisfy your despairing desires. Tonight sees the start of Apple Tree Yard, the BBC’s raunchy new drama over four weeks, where the emphasis will be on the “empowerment of middle-aged women” and sex, which is in ample supply.
Within 10 minutes, in the Houses of Parliament, we’re plunged into the first sex scene in a broom cupboard next to the chapel.
The two impressive leads, Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin, a science academic and civil servant/spy with a predilection for outdoor sex in tiny alcoves, throw themselves into an encounter just three minutes after bumping into each other while waiting for coffee.
Apple Tree Yard is BBC One’s new Sunday night drama series for adults
We're two actors who have been round the block a bit so we planned the sex
It happens all the time of course.
But don’t challenge the reality of the situations too much or you will be rather disappointed. Watson’s character, apparently happily married with grown-up children, does have yearnings and undoubtedly Chaplin is the right man at the right time.
At their initial trysts Amanda Coe’s dialogue, from Louise Doughty’s bestselling book, crackles along: “I’ve never done anything like that before,” says Watson breathily. “Lucky me,” replies Chaplin.
Later Watson’s Yvonne Carmichael confesses: “Sex with you is like being eaten by a wolf.” It’s a fairly accurate description although, with some relief, there is very little naked flesh on show. Watson (The Politician’s Husband/Breaking The Waves) says she “planned” her own sex scenes.
“There were full and frank discussions about them,” she says. “When you’re asked to do these kinds of scenes when you’re 22, there’s just a lot of fumbling, and hoping and just wishing they’d say, ‘cut’.
'We're two actors who have been round the block a bit so we planned the sex'
“But when you’ve got two actors who have been around the block a bit, between us over a few hours, we just sat down and discussed it point by point and had a plan. We wanted it to seem real, like a progression, and we just planned it.”
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She adds: “I’d known Ben [Chaplin] for a long time and we were very honest about it and straightforward, and it was fun and funny.” But baring flesh was not on the agenda for Watson, 49.
“The first thing I said to the director was that I wouldn’t do any nudity, not because I’m a prude but I’m way too old for that.” She even had a novel way of getting through some of the more harrowing scenes at the end of the first episode:
“In a way, those things are very in the moment. But it’s later, when you’re thinking about them, when I find it harder. I was also playing a lot of Candy Crush between takes, just zoning out!”
For her co-star Chaplin, the sex scenes were “interesting”. He continues:
“They are something everyone wants to ask about and for actors it’s just the oddest part of the job. I now understand one of the reasons Emily wanted me to do this was because we knew each other quite well.
We were not good friends, but we’ve known each other a long time and got on very well when we worked together, so I understand she wanted an actor she felt comfortable with.
We work in a similar way and the sex scenes are definitely helped by being specific – by talking about what it is you want to communicate and do.”
BBC One boss Charlotte Moore, at a Bafta launch in London, describes the drama as “provocative” and a “rollercoaster”.
It is both those, as the first episode concludes with a horrifying attack that darkens the mood considerably. If you’re a fan of the book, you won’t be disappointed. Doughty was delighted with the adaptation despite initial reservations.
“When approached I was thrilled to bits but also quite trepidatious,” she admits. “The book is very dear to my heart and a very personal book about a middle-aged woman.
It was very easy to see how they could have got it wrong but they didn’t. “I handed the whole thing over to Amanda to adapt it. I actually think there should be a law against novelists adapting their own books. They’re too precious and they get too involved.”
Indeed she praises the screenwriter: “She kept the beginning, which is the prologue of the book,” says Doughty. “It’s the idea of starting with a woman whom you know nothing about.
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All you know is that she’s on trial. You don’t know what for, you don’t know who she’s in the dock with, we don’t know what’s happened but you know that something catastrophic has happened in her life to bring her to this place and then go backwards and realise that she’s incredibly conventional, with a lovely home and two grown-ups kids.
“I just wanted to take someone whom a lot of readers and now viewers could identify with, worrying about whether you have put out the recycling and then she makes one decision – and one catastrophic decision – and she does something out of character.
It was important that she was a scientist, because all her life she has been rational and done the right thing but then she allows passion to overtake her. I did want an Everywoman of a certain age. But for all the sex in alleyways, they do see something in each other.” Doughty was relieved about the casting, too:
“One of my other concerns was that Yvonne [Watson] would be cast young, which is what most romantic or sexual heroines are. It was really important that she was a middle-aged woman. She could even have been in her late 30s, or early 40s, so I was anxious about that.
But my primary anxiety was that I also didn’t want it sexualised in the wrong way. “I wanted her to be sexy, I wanted her to have a sexual life and I wanted this woman to open up and discover herself – discover a whole side of herself that she had probably repressed. Thankfully I talked to the director and she allayed all my fears about it.”
Apple Tree Yard, BBC One, tonight 9 o’clock.