Tell It to the Bees

 

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A love story for today set in Scotland over sixty years ago.

 
Tell It to the Bees

Holliday Grainger and Anna Paquin

 

It was in 2009 that Fiona Shaw (the novelist, not the actress) wrote a book which has now been adapted for the screen by Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. Its title would appear to have been suggested by lines written by Rudyard Kipling who, in his 'Bee Boy's Song' of 1906, proposed that even if you hide things from your neighbours you should tell all to the bees. Shaw's story is set in Scotland in 1952 and, since it has at its heart a lesbian relationship, it does indeed deal with something better kept secret in those days. In point of fact the lesbian inclinations of Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) are already the subject of gossip (although she has recently returned to the town where she grew up, she had left it some years before after an incident involving another girl). In contrast, Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger) is known to be a mother who is bringing up her son but is estranged from her husband (Emun Eliott) and she herself is unaware of her sexual preference until she finds herself drawn to the sympathetic doctor.

 

Since this tale is told in adult voice over by the man who is Lydia's son and who was then a boy of ten, the impact on him of discovering what is going on carries distant echoes of L.P. Hartley's celebrated novel The Go-Between filmed by Joseph Losey in 1970. However, although Paquin and Grainger are good actresses and although Annabel Jankel directs this film competently, Tell It to the Bees functions on a much lower level than that classic - indeed it prompts thoughts of television serials. It is in keeping with such works that there is a sub-plot about Lydia's cousin (Lauren Lyle) whose lover (Leo Hoyte-Egan) is of mixed race and a sub-sub-plot regarding Jean's brother-in-law (Steven Robertson), a widower who proposes marriage to her. The hostility of prim Pam Stock (Kate Dickie), Lydia's sister-in-law, is also par for this course.

 

For much of its length Tell It to the Bees is acceptable enough if one treats it for what it is, and that's so even if the television comparison prompted by it makes one wonder to what extent it will attract cinema patrons. Ultimately, however, one is forced to take a harsher view. That's because the climax incorporates at one and the same time a range of dramatic events which, climaxing together, topple over into pure melodrama. Even the bees kept by the doctor which had seemed like a colourful extra (Lydia's son, well played by Gregor Selkirk, confides in them) are brought into action in the big finale. The period setting has given credibility to the love story and to the problems faced by Jean and Lydia, but the contrived build-up at the close is fatally unpersuasive.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Anna Paquin, Holliday Grainger, Emun Elliott, Steven Robertson, Lauren Lyle, Gregor Selkirk, Kate Dickie, Leo Hoyte-Egan, Alexa Snell, Michael O'Connor, Sarah McCardie.

 

Dir Annabel Jankel, Pro Daisy Allsop, Nick Hill, Annabel Jankel, Nik Bower and Laure Vaysse, Screenplay Henrietta Ashworth and Jessica Ashworth, from the novel by Fiona Shaw, Ph Bartosz Nalazek, Pro Des Andy Harris, Ed Jon Harris and Maya Maffioli, Music Claire M. Singer, Costumes Ali Mitchell.

 

Motion Picture Capital/BFI/Creative Scotland/Rep 8/Taking a Line for a Walk-Vertigo Films.
108 mins. UK/Sweden. 2018. Rel: 19 July 2019. Cert. 15.