In 1950s small town Britain, a doctor develops a relationship with her young patient's mother.In 1950s small town Britain, a doctor develops a relationship with her young patient's mother.In 1950s small town Britain, a doctor develops a relationship with her young patient's mother.
It's 1952 ("Carol" was also set in 1952, but in New York). Many married men have come back from the war forever changed. Life is financially tough for most families. In particular, attitudes to multi-racial relationships and (particularly) homosexuality are appalling, and never more so than in the small Scottish mill town where the film is set.
Holliday Grainger plays Lydia, separating from her rough and ready war-veteren husband Robert (Emun Elliott). This is all really hard for 7-year old Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) who without sexual guidance from either parent or school is trying to make sense of his world. Charlie is a sensitive child and finds solace by talking to the bees kept by local doctor Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) where she lives alone in the large family home. "You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won't fly away." Jean tells the young lad.
As Lydia's circumstances change, she and Jean grow ever closer and scandal is set to envelope the community.
The story comes from a book by Fiona Shaw (the the action moved from Yorkshire to Scotland) and the screenplay is by Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. Just as in "Carol" the film deliciously builds (if that's not too lascivious a thing to say) the sexual tension that grows between the two women.
But aside from this main love story there are some beautifully crafted sub-stories in there. One in particular, featuring Lydia's cousin Annie Stock (Lauren Lyle) leads to a truly nightmarish scene that will upset some viewers.
An issue I personally found with the Scottish setting is that (like "Under the Skin") much of a dialogue is delivered in a very strong regional accent. This made understanding the dialogue for non-Scots very difficult: I had a particular problem with Emun Elliott in this regard. (Sorry if this comment upsets any Scots reading this: it's just a statement of fact!).
Anna Paquin holds the current record for the youngest-ever Oscar winner ("Best Supporting Actress" in 1993 for "The Piano"), but here proves she hasn' t lost her touch. Because, here she is both determined and vulnerable in equal measure and acts this out brilliantly. Paired with the free-spirited Holliday Grainger they make for a powerhouse performance together, and the sex scene (when it comes) is wonderfully realised: genuinely sensual, but in more of a 50's way than for similar scenes in films like "Desert Hearts" or "Blue is the Warmest Colour".
A late scene on a railway platform - although somewhat clichéd - is an acting masterclass, and memorably done.
Also noteworthy is young Gregor Selkirk in what is his 2nd feature film role. Many of the scenes live or die on this young man, and he does a great job.
This is a small but beautifully crafted film that kept me enthralled. I'm not sure it necessarily needed the bees (some beautiful macro photography by Bartosz Nalazek) but as a simple tale of prejudice in a small community it was well told and delivered the goods.
I really enjoyed this film... so it comes with my recommendation. "Pride" made you appreciate just how far tolerance has come in the UK in 30 years. But "Tell it to the Bees" illustrates that the 80's were just a step along a journey that started long before that.
(For the full, graphical review please visit One Mann's Movies on the internet or Facebook.
- Jul 16, 2019