Tell It To The Bees by Annabel Jankel is a 1950s coming-of-age story that fails to convince.
No Buzzby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Tell It To the Bees is in the mould of The Go-Between. It’s a literary coming-of-age story with a reflective voiceover by the central character’s adult self (Billy Boyd). The story is set this time in 1952 in a dour Scottish mill town.
Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) is the young boy who innocently sets in motion life-changing events for his mother Lydia (Holliday Granger). A northern lass, she has settled here because of her abusive husband, from whom she is separated. She works at the local mill that dominates the town, where her supervisor is her pinch-mouthed sister-in-law (Kate Dickie).
Lonely Charlie is taken under the wing of the sympathetic, newly returned (female) GP Jean (Anna Paquin), who has hives of bees in her garden. She explains to him that the bees will understand if he tells his troubles to the them and he becomes fascinated by the way the members of the hive all work together. His friendship with her is the catalyst that brings Jean together with unhappy Lydia, in a relationship that shocks the locals.
But it’s the grim ’50s: the period is not very convincingly evoked, though the thread of the society-changing potential of new National Health Service, about which Jean is passionate, is an interesting adjunct that has a topical resonance today. As well as ’50s austerity, women have to contend with contemporary attitudes to domestic violence, secrets and hypocrisy, and prejudice against discreet lesbian relationships in a typically narrow-minded for the times small community. As unwittingly as Leo in The Go-Between, Charlie is responsible for unleashing cataclysmic events that change all their lives.
It’s an unsatisfactory film, a strange mixture of pedestrian scene-setting, an uncertain tone and an overarching and overused metaphor of the bees, which at one point takes off into magic realism. To see the film’s collection of issues handled with convincing realism, sensitivity and genuine empathy, just watch any episode of Call The Midwife.
Tell It To The Bees is released on 19 July 2019.