BOOK VERSUS FILM: Apple Tree Yard

Okay, not film exactly this week, but a TV adaptation – same diff! I’ve been catching up on television lately, which means I’ve only just got round to the BBC’s recent adaptation of Apple Tree Yard. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you can buy the box set, HERE).

Apple Tree Yard was a five star read for me in 2016, so I was really looking forward to seeing the adaptation. I was pleased with the casting – Emily Watson was perfect as Yvonne – and whilst Ben Chapman seemed a little young for her lover, I felt sure he had the acting chops to pull it off.

But which was better, the book or its adaptation? Here’s my SPOILERIFIC rundown, plus my verdict of this courtroom drama …

1) Yvonne. As predicted, Emily Watson was perfect as Yvonne, for me. She also brought a warmth to the protagonist I hadn’t experienced in the source material. Whilst Yvonne had seemed more calculating in the novel, Watson’s interpretation of her was more ‘stretched’ by life and dare I say it, relatable. That said, I loved Yvonne in the novel BECAUSE she could behave so reprehensibly – which in itself  lent the ending much more credibility in the book, rather than the film.

MY VERDICT: Draw

2) Mark (aka ‘X’). Ben Chapman puts in an excellent performance and as a character, Mark seems much nicer and more protective of Yvonne than ‘X’ in the book. Unfortunately I didn’t really buy the chemistry between Yvonne and Mark in the way I did in the book between her and X. I could believe her in the source material when she says ‘sex with him is like being eaten by a wolf‘, but I didn’t really get this feel from the adaptation. In addition, he seems much more eager to please her in the TV adaptation (and why not, arf!) but then they included all the stuff from the source material like X’s constant cruising of female work colleagues, even after Yvonne’s rape. This seemed inconsistent and whilst I understand the idea is in the adaptation he has a personality disorder, it didn’t work for me. In the book X claimed the same, but I got the impression he was only saying it to try and get off the charge – which worked much better in my opinion.

MY VERDICT: Book

3) George. George, Yvonne’s rapist, comes out of the left field in both the book and the adaptation. This works well because she never perceives him as a potential threat, until he actually is one. He is perfectly ‘normal’ — as rapists and abusers too often are. It’s refreshing to see this in fiction and on TV, which frequently create such characters as evil caricatures. In the adaptation after the rape, another layer is added: she believes George is following her and messaging her, even watching her. It’s never clear if this is a figment of her imagination as a result of the trauma, or the truth … or a bit of both. Now this may have been present in the book too, but I never got it until I watched the adaptation.

MY VERDICT: Adaptation

4) Yvonne’s reaction. What I liked about both the book and the adaptation is Yvonne’s rape is never questioned, by either Gary or Mark/X. She is the only one who ever blames herself, in fact (as rape survivors often do). In the book however, her thoughts on what has happened to her and what it means for her sense of self is much more nuanced. They do try and bring this in during the adaptation but of course, it’s a visual medium.

MY VERDICT: Book

5) Gary. The other main character of note is Gary, Yvonne’s husband. I don’t know if they ‘beefed’ his part up more for the adaptation, or I just noticed him less in the book … But I feel like he’s a much more holistic character in the adaptation.  His confession that he slept with Rosa before Yvonne goes to see George with Mark is a masterstroke; in the book she reads the papers with him in the garden if I remember correctly, which I felt went from 0-60mph in terms of murderous intention.

MY VERDICT: Adaptation

6) Other characters. The best friend character had a great expositional function in the book, as did Yvonne’s children, but inevitably these characters got sidelined a bit in the adaptation. Interestingly, Mark’s wife seemed much more three dimensional in the adaptation, even though she only appears briefly. But overall, the book had much richer characterisation overall, especially when it came to mental health — as  you would expect, from a book.

MY VERDICT: Book

7) Plotting & Pace. In terms of the book, pace zips along from there offset IMHO and I never once felt like I was ‘waiting’ for anything to happen. Surprisingly, I felt the opposite for the adaptation. The first episode felt unbearably slow, though the second episode picked up considerably, with the third my favourite. I felt as if four episodes was ‘too many’ for a story like this and that two episode, perhaps three at a pinch could have worked better in terms of pacing.

MY VERDICT: Book

8) Ending. In the book, Yvonne and X never meet again after their arrest and we discover what she has done in retrospect. Being TV and thus more immediate, the ending in the adaptation has Yvonne and Mark meeting one last time via glass, in which Mark says ‘I never told them’ – the notion being he did not sell her out like she sold him out. Except, in the TV version she says something like he couldn’t tell the difference between what was real and what wasn’t … the idea seemingly being he went and killed George, off his own bat rather than because of Yvonne’s instruction. I disliked this intensely because it effectively changes the ending: the book has a sting in the tale when we realise she has been lying. This element is removed in the adaptation, which undoes the narrative e logic of a variety of other threads (see next).

MY VERDICT: Book

9) Other. A female screenwriter and a female director were at the helm of the adaptation and it shows. The horror and disbelief of Yvonne’s rape is not shown gratuitously or sexily; we experience it through her eyes and only a snippet. There was also a motif dedicated to recycling throughout the adaptation that was very clever and had all kinds of subtext attached about ageing. Close ups of Yvonne’s boot too appeared more than once – just like in the source material – and linked nicely to her prison leg cuff. However, the subtext of such things as the experiment where the monkey stands on her baby (or not) does not fare as well in the adaptation as it does the book, though arguably this doesn’t matter (especially given the ending is no longer about Yvonne selling Mark out).

MY VERDICT: Draw

Concluding:

Well, it’s a tough one, but with these points in mind I’d say it’s Book – 5, versus Adaptation 2 (with a further 2 as ‘Draw’). I really enjoyed the adaptation overall, but ultimately it was the book that hit all the buttons for me.

What ‘s YOUR verdict?

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4 thoughts on “BOOK VERSUS FILM: Apple Tree Yard”

  1. I read the book recently as I wanted to see the adaptation but I always have to read the book first. So the book was very fresh in my mind and I would agree that the book was so much better. You made me think a bit more about the characterisation from book to screen though and I really appreciated that. I would just say that in the book Yvonne does see George watching her after the rape (when she’s in the hairdressers for example) and she feels unnerved by this but it doesn’t come over more strongly in the TV series. Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks! Glad you liked it. Yes, I thought Yvonne saw George ‘for real’ re: the hairdresser, but the TV version seemed to hint George in the shop and near Big Ben were hallucinations brought on by stress. I thought this worked really well.

  2. I like your review. I only watched the tv show and came here to find the difference with the book. From the TV show, I didn’t get that Yvonne sold Mark out. Only Mark did but actually he didn’t. It does change a lot from book to TV when they showed that she didn’t mean it.

    I am guessing in the book it is that she did tell him to kill and meant it. True?

    It’s so weird. I thought Mark was still MI5 but MI5 disowned him like spooks usually do 🙂 At least in books and movies no 😛 If he did have the training, it the question is how come he didn’t plan better. The shoe with blood, captured on cctv, using her car instead of renting, etc. Also, on the question of rape, the email from George (and her response not to contact her), the text from George, etc, are not broached in the case. That would have strengthened her case. I know the plot is not the main thing, but the feelings and the relationship but small points that bother me 🙂

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