After getting into a fight in school, a young boy named Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) meets the newly appointed Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin), who has recently taken over her father’s practice. Charlie’s mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) is depressed as her marriage is collapsing and she is struggling to make the rent. Jean, who shares an interest in bee colonies with Charlie, offers for the mother and son to live in her house. Jean and Lydia eventually develop a romantic relationship but in 1950s small town Scotland, heads start turning and they come up against barriers.
As far as period dramas based on novels (written by Fiona Shaw the author, not to be confused with the actress) go, ‘Tell it to the Bees’ is pretty down the line average. While there are some points of interest such as Dr Markham’s fight to make prescriptions accessible and feasible for women, and a striking colour palette with the dull, shadowy cinematography countered by yellow close-ups of bees, the film pretty much plays out exactly as you’d expect it to.
Holliday Grainger, who between this, ‘The Borgias’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel is coming to be as associated with costume dramas and period settings as Keira Knightley, continues to prove herself a star on the rise. Her limelight here, however, is stolen by Anna Paquin who expertly captures the reserved but quietly determined and sharp nature of Dr Markham. In fact, Paquin gets better as the film progresses and one mourns the fact that in spite of being an Academy award-winning actress, she’s only getting average movies like this, with Hollywood having largely forgotten her (even cutting out her iconic role, superhero movie nerds will remember, of Rogue in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’).
‘Tell it to the Bees’ moves a bit slow and yet feels rushed. You can see the affair coming a mile off and while it’s sweet and tender, thanks to the actresses’ excellent performances, there’s nothing all that interesting to it, or anything that distinguishes it from other queer romance dramas. It does take something of a dark turn as the potential threats – and inevitable consequences – of their affair dawn on them, especially for Lydia, and it gets quite disturbing in the final act, though this is followed by a strange collapse into magical realism that this reviewer can’t quite decide whether she liked or not. In any case, it is a matter of too little too late, and while ‘Tell it to the Bees’ makes for pleasant viewing, it’s uninspired and highly forgettable.
On the bright side, at least director Annabel Jankel can put her name to another film other than ‘Super Mario Bros.’