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Despite the hefty talent involved, there’s a preposterous pass-agg tweeness to this film – a contrived and self-conscious affair adapted from Fiona Shaw’s 2009 novel and directed by Annabel Jankel. It’s about forbidden love seen through the uncomprehending and then semi-comprehending eyes of a child in that foreign country famously described by LP Hartley: the past.
The setting is a pinched and disapproving town in provincial 1950s Scotland, where Charlie Weekes is a lonely little lad in heartbreaking shorts and school satchel. He is played by Gregor Selkirk and his grownup self is supplied in voiceover by Billy Boyd, looking back at the momentous events of his childhood.
Charlie’s mum, Lydia (Holliday Grainger), is separated from her abusive husband. She forms a not-so-secret relationship with the neighbourhood doctor, Jean (Anna Paquin), who is passionately idealistic about the fledgling NHS. But some narrow-minded, homophobic types in the community are not happy, and chief among the thin-lipped disapprovers is factory supervisor Pam (a fiercely severe performance by Kate Dickie).
Charlie is entranced by the fact that Jean keeps bees, and the film does show in an interesting way how these bees and their mysterious hive mind become symbols for unrepressed natural forces, their swarm an eco-system of cooperation and acceptance. But in the film’s third act these bees miraculously (and slightly bizarrely) become agents of rescue and revenge.
Of course, this might simply be a representation of how memory supplies a poetic rearrangement of the facts. But there is something jarring and unconvincing in the tough realism of local life and the gooey magic-realism of these wondrous bees, and we get a whiff of ham and silliness in the drama itself.
• Tell It to the Bees is released in the UK on 19 July.
Source: The Guardian
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