Saturday, 15 June 2019

Tell It To The Bees ★★★★☆

‘Tell It To The Bees’ is the latest film by Annabel Jankel, most well-known for ‘Super Mario Bros.’ in 1993, and it couldn’t be more different (thankfully). I was intrigued to review this particular film as it really comes under the genre of “lesbian period drama”, a film category that I don’t see an awful lot of.

Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger) lives with her 11 year old son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) in a 1950s town in Scotland, but things are tough – after coming back from the war her husband Robert (Emun Elliott) was a changed man and decided instead to move onto a different woman. Judgement is harsh in the town and Lydia is more reprimanded than Rob, most notably by Pam (Kate Dickie), the sister of Robert whose permanently stony expression is certainly enough to go by. Cousin Annie (Lauren Lyle), a bit of a wild child, is there for her but that’s pretty much it.

Until Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) moves back into town to her newly-deceased father’s house, a doctor and now beekeeper remembered for kissing her female friend as a teenager so many years ago. She is shunned once again by the community but develops a relationship with Lydia after a medical appointment leads to inviting Charlie round and showing him how to look after the bees. The two must keep their relationship secret from both the village and Charlie, however, gossip spreads like wildfire in these times and they soon find themselves in a situation that goes from bad to worse.

As far as period dramas go, ‘Tell It To The Bees’ conveys excellently what this particular time and environment was like, with a focus on the industrial side of the village and glares from the townsfolk that you can almost hear, they are so strong. Costume and set design is believable and quaint, transporting you back into such a different time. It’s got a real gritty side to it as well – some scenes are dreamy and magical, like perhaps they would have been in a time with fewer people and more of a natural world, yet others are stark and raw and their emotion and will give you quite a wake-up call (particularly towards the end of the film where a series of different plot threads all come together in explosive harmony). 

The chemistry between characters is generally quite good throughout the film – the relationship between Lydia and Jean is believable, and the process of it developing from scratch will leave you feeling warm. I don’t have any complaints for any of the acting which was great all around, and I was particularly impressed with Gregor Selkirk – at only 11 himself, he gives a very convincing performance of an 11 year old boy struggling to come to terms with some very adult concepts. We see how strong his childhood is through his communication with the bees, and how he uses this to combat the confusing situations going on around him. He’s certainly one to watch.

‘Tell It To The Bees’ has had a lot of mixed reviews from critics, and whilst I can see that some parts are perhaps a bit too orchestrated and it doesn’t follow the same ending as the book, it gave me what I wanted it to as a film of the genre – a difficult love story that challenges the perceptions of the past and explores not only LGBT issues but growing up, women’s rights, and the concept of masculinity. It’s progressive but not in your face about it, which is exactly how such films should be.

Hannah Read

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