Tell It To The Bees (15); Dir. Annabel Jankel; 2 Stars
Based on the novel by Fiona Shaw, Tell It To The Bees is set in a small Scottish town in the 50s, where kindly doctor Jean (Anna Paquin) takes in single mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) as her housekeeper. The two soon begin a relationship, which threatens to be destroyed by the prying eyes and gossip from their small town.
Gorgeously understated, director Annabel Jankel (whose last film was 1993’s Super Mario Brothers) sets the scene perfectly as her two leads build a subtle bond that feels natural rather than salacious. Sadly, the progression of the plot is much more forced. The running sub-plot, in which Lydia’s son Charlie copes with his surroundings by learning about the behaviour of bees, is so heavy handed it becomes comical.
The pair’s uncertain fate is signposted by two dimensional characters such as Robert (Emund Elliot), Lydia’s ex who is an amalgam of every abusive husband stereotype one can think of. However, nothing quite compares you for the grim, violent third act that ends the film on a downbeat note, and is completely at odds with the gentle intensity of what came before it. It’s something that feels like a decision made simply to shock, and spoils the fine work done by Paquin and Grainger to create characters you can invest in.
Leaning on worn out art house cinema tropes (most notably the one about LGBTQ+ characters being denied happiness), Tell It To The Bees wastes its potential.