Tell It to the Bees

Review by Ella Kemp @efekemp

Directed by

Annabel Jankel

Starring

Anna Paquin Holliday Grainger Kate Dickie

Anticipation.

Seems familiar, but sweet casting gives this potential.

Enjoyment.

Nobody asked for this many literal bees!

In Retrospect.

Fluffed potential, watery romance that has no real feeling to cling to.

Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger star in Annabel Jankel’s emotionally-strained sapphic romance.

It’s easier to explain the concept of sex to a child through flowery storytelling than with graphic unsubtleties – and it can sometimes help adults understand their own frustrations a little better as well. The Birds and the Bees offer a gateway into something more digestible and altogether safer, because their metaphorical existence allows all involved parties to remove themselves from the narrative. But this device is relied on too heavily when it is employed to dilute the stakes of Annabel Jankel’s sapphic romance Tell It to the Bees.

What sounds wistful is immediately far too literal in this airy love story. The film opens with a young boy is peering into a beehive. A wink can feed the intrigue, but the dependence on symbolic imagery is an affliction that plagues this affair from start to finish. The boy is Charlie Weekes (played with cherubic enthusiasm by Gregor Selkirk), son of Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger), a single mother trying to make ends meet in a city that isn’t her own.

Charlie wanders into the life of the bees when he meets their owner, and the town’s medical practitioner, Dr Jean Markham, the third point of the triangle that defines this narrative. Anna Paquin plays Jean with timidity that turns to blankness more often than tenderness – fighting the conventions of a narrow-minded town coming to terms with a female doctor with a whimper more than a buzz.

And so the film follows Charlie and the bees, Lydia and her displaced loneliness, Jean and her shunned personhood. The two women find each other over quiet afternoons, as eyes meet and bodies grow closer. But passion never quite reaches a fever pitch – although Lydia and Jean make the right moves around and into each other, there’s a nagging sense of distraction and detachment that prevents their love from ringing true in the slightest.

Theirs isn’t the first forbidden romance and it may not be the last, but familiarity severely hampers the film’s effectiveness. Perhaps Charlie should have told them a little less, or Fiona Shaw’s novel was better felt in its sprawling, introspective prose than in the cluttered spaces between scripted confessions lacking conviction. It doesn’t help that Grainger and Paquin seem to be yearning for different futures from the off.

It’s not uncommon for lovers to crisscross in and out of each other’s lives, seeing different paths but finding joy in those crossover moments, but Lydia and Jean look like two people told to accommodate rather than save each other, even if for a brief moment. The easiest thing would be to blame the bees – too many, too loud, too real – but if you listen to the silence when they lay to rest, there’s little more to salvage in terms of the things that could ever be worth listening to.

Published 19 Jul 2019

Tags: Anna Paquin Annabel Jankel Holliday Grainger Kate Dickie

Anticipation.

Seems familiar, but sweet casting gives this potential.

Enjoyment.

Nobody asked for this many literal bees!

In Retrospect.

Fluffed potential, watery romance that has no real feeling to cling to.

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