True Story: After waxing lyrical about this lovely film for ten minutes to a confused and concerned looking friend it turns out that ’ Tell it to the Bees’ pronounced in an English accent to an American ear sounds like Teletubbies.
Once you are over that you are confronted by a love story that moves, slow as honey, through the changing times of post-war Britain. The comforting pace lulls you until you are jolted upright by some gut wrenchingly horrific events. We will not spoil them for you here.
The story is told through the young eyes of Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), a boy who is “older than his parent’s marriage”. He is surrounded by secrets and is encouraged to deal with them by telling them to the inscrutable bees. As an adult he looks back on this childhood and you see the imagination that he used to make life less painful.
The bee metaphor runs through the movie and some of the later horrors are contrasted with a magical realist rescue by the hive of bees. It’s heavy handed but at the same time reinforces a child’s view of the very adult things happening around him.
Those adult things consist of a cruel father, twisted by the war, who deserts him and his mother for another woman. There is the gossip that it creates in a town that is just too small to hide secrets. Left broke and evicted his mother strikes up a friendship with the local female doctor who has been letting Charlie explore his fascination with bees in the hives on her land. Slowly the two women fall in love when desperate Lydia moves in as housekeeper.
Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) comes with her own uneasy history. Brought up in this small town she ran away in her youth to escape rumours about being “a dirty dyke”. She returned as an adult to take over her late father’s medical practice and find a place where she feels she can stop running and be herself. Part of her own healing is to bring the liberation of a female doctor to a silenced community of women who have been held back by the shame and embarrassment of visiting a male doctor. Some of the women have long term medical issues that they just could not bring themselves to discuss. In that social situation issues like sex, fertility and back street abortion loom large in the background.
The woodenly played Doctor Markham has learnt to hold back from showing emotion. In one scene we finally see her break out of the mental shackle that have been binding her when she jumps fully clothed into a lake to rescue Charlie’s toy boat. It’s a little incident but we finally see someone who is ready to be the hero in her own story.
The mom, Lydia Weekes, is played by Holliday Grainger. An apple faced liveliness fluidly delivered makes the love story seem more natural when it gets overtly coy. She contributes an inevitability brought on by a good heart and an open mind.
Some of the minor characters are worth a longer look. Hateful and hatchet-faced Pam Cranmer (acidic Kate Dickie) is her sister in law. She lurks in the background and sacks Lydia from her job at the mill. She strikes again later like a sharpened knitting needle. Annie Cranmer’s (Lauren Lyle) sub plot interracial affair would also have been worthy of expanding more as it creates the movies emotional turning point.
Contrasting this movie with the BFI Flare flagship movie of Vita & Virginia highlights the flaws in that movie. Vita and Virginia had a leaden heavy dialogue that overwhelmed the story telling to the point where it was hard to care about the characters. In this movie you desperately want the characters to get a happy ending. See the movie and find out if they do.
Review by Andrew Hebden
Queerguru Correspondent Andrew Hebden is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.The story is told through the young eyes of Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), a boy who is “older than his parent’s marriage”. He is surrounded by secrets and is encouraged to deal with them by telling them to the inscrutable bees. As an adult he looks back on this childhood and you see the imagination that he used to make life less painful.