REVIEW: ‘Tell It To The Bees’ is a Sweet Tale With a Sting

Rating: 3 out of 3.

“Buzzing with desire and dances to the tune of humming bees”

The cobbled streets of Scotland are uneven under Lydia’s (Holliday Grainger) feet. It’s 1952 and she is trying to keep up with rent payments and ensure her son, Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), stays out of trouble. Nothing can prepare Lydia for the life-changing events that are awaiting her.

It is a friendship Charlie strikes with Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin), as she tends to his bruises, that leads to Jean and Lydia’s meeting. The two women grow closer and closer with a chemistry that buzzes with possibilities. Jean’s part-time venture into beekeeping truly reflects her internal passion. It is here the bond between Charlie and Jean falls away. Yet what Jean says about the importance of the bees stays with Charlie. The young boy becomes fascinated by the insects; sitting cross legged in front of the hives, he whispers his secrets to the bees. Charlie offers an innocent gaze on the complicated world of adulthood that functions around him. With his youthfulness also comes a naivety, a naivety that puts his own childhood in jeopardy.

It is Lydia’s not-quite ex-husband, John (Euan Mason), that has a presence of a determined wasp. Angry about everything and refusing to move-on, John is an antagonist with no redeemable qualities. It is also his mother Pam (Kate Dickie) who casts a dark cloud over Lydia and Charlie’s life. The presence of these figures is unnerving and it is in the third act is where things turn especially bitter; the once tasteful narrative can no longer be sweetened. The brutality of violence that is enacted upon the bodies of women is used in a way that reinforces the stakes of lesbianism, setting a reminder of how controversial their relationship is seen as. But the brutality these bodies bear puts the lives of these two women on display to be judged by those around them. Tell It To The Bees centralises the surreptitious nature of their relationship but welcomes viewers into the intimacy the women share. A balancing act of visibility versus dramatic intent situates Lydia and Jean’s romance at the heart of this Scottish tale.

a close-up on Lydia and Jean about to kiss

Director Annabel Jankel brews this tentative romance between Lydia and Jean with great care. At times the immersion into this evocative imagery is interrupted by the presence of CGI bees that quickly become an eyesore. The camera climbs and swoops to follow the bees.

It is a softness used by Jankel that allows the time to be taken to invest into the connection between the two women. Gazing intimately at them both, although it is Holly Grainger who flies high in this role. Showing her talent as a performer who can go from subtle and quiet expressions as Jane

With an older Charlie bookending this story with narration, there is a sense of time passed and reflection. His voice telling the story of his mother’s infatuation brings an alternative view onto the personal. Tell It To The Bees is buzzing with desire and dances to the tune of humming bees. The stifled romance is given time to breathe, and builds at its own pace. Perhaps the film would be sweeter if only their relationship was framed as delicately as Charlie’s love for the bees.

Dir: Annabel Jankel

Prod: Daisy Allsop, Nick Hill, Annabel Jankel, Nik Bower, Laure Vaysse

Cast: Anna Paquin, Holliday Grainger, Emun Elliott, Lauren Lyle

Available on: digital for UK and Ireland