Tell It to the Bees

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Tell It to the Bees
dir Annabel Jankel
scr Henrietta Ashworth, Jessica Ashworth
prd Daisy Allsop, Nik Bower, Nick Hill, Annabel Jankel, Laure Vaysse
with Anna Paquin, Holliday Grainger, Gregor Selkirk, Kate Dickie, Lauren Lyle, Emun Elliott, Steven Robertson, Leo Hoyte-Egan, Alexa Snell, Rebecca Hanssen, Isaac Jenkins, Joanne Gallagher
release US 3.May.19,
UK 26.Jul.19
18/UK BFI 1h46

paquin grainger dickie
flare film fest

grainger and paquin
Told with perhaps too much warmth, this 1950s romance is sharply written, acted and production designed to create a specific period atmosphere. It's austere and fairly bursting with secret feelings as two women fall in love in a small town. The themes are handled with sensitivity and a light directorial touch, but the melodrama begins to feel sticky in the final act, pushing the characters in arch directions.
In rural 1952 Scotland, Lydia (Grainger) is struggling with life on her own after husband Rob (Elliott) leaves her and their young son Charlie (Selkirk). This makes her the target of nasty gossip, most notably from Rob's harsh sister Pam (Dickie). Then Charlie befriends the new village doctor Jean (Paquin), fascinated by her beehives. And Lydia finds a close friend in Jean, a fellow outsider about whom everyone whispers. As their relationship blossoms into romance, whispers turn into accusations. Charlie doesn't understand this, so he contacts his father, which only makes everything worse.
The title refers to a line from Kipling about sharing the weight of a secret. This metaphor is pushed heavily, swelling out of control at times, which would be fine if the story was told from Charlie's point of view. But when the perspective shifts to Lydia and Jean, movie tips off-balance. Until the plot begins to loudly crank its gears, their relationship is believable and engaging, underplayed by both director Jankel and the actors. Everything else is shouted loudly.

Both Paquin and Grainger are terrific at building characters from the inside out, which makes Jean and Lydia fully believable both on their own and as a couple. Each actor makes intriguing choices that undermine the script's heavy-handed issues. By contrast, Dickie and Elliott are solid even as pantomime villains respectively cackling and moustache-twirling until the rather predictable revelation of some pathos.

It's jarring that only the two central characters have modern-day attitudes, while everyone else is stuck in the period. Jean and Lydia see no obstacles to their love, so the attitudes of those around them feel rather contrived, even if it's Jean and Lydia who are actually the anachronisms. And then there's Charlie, whose bees become a rather corny element in the narrative, further warring with the audience for perspective. In other words, the uneven tone leaves the film intriguing and thoughtful, but it's never as powerfully moving as it needs to be.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 20.Mar.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall