Research has shown that the human race will only survive a maximum of five years without bees. In Tell it to the Bees a young boy’s determination and trust in both humanity and this precious species is tenderly explored.
Upon her father’s death, Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) returns to her hometown in an intimate British village to care for his bees, confront the past, and establish a future. Lydia (Holliday Grainger) is a young mother struggling to work at a factory to care for her son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) after her husband comes back from the war with new priorities. Charlie lands himself in Dr. Markham’s office one day after a scuffle with a few schoolmates and finds himself enamored with both her and her bees.
What follows is an exploration of love in all its forms, from love of nature, love of self, to being in love. The film is framed as a reflection from Charlie, who is looking back on this pivotal time in the life of both himself and the rest of his family. Tell it to the Bees has as much to say about parenthood and childhood as it does about the two women falling in love. Charlie’s relationship with the bees is that of a best friend, or even a diary, an outlet for him to catalog the wonder of the worlds as they unfold around him.
Watching this story unfold through the eyes of a young child is a much-needed reminder of how innocent and loving and open and, well, sponge-like young people are. Taking this journey alongside Charlie, while he grows and explores nature, the world, human interaction, and the processing of understanding that family cannot be defined by the societal projection of a mom, a dad, and a white picket fence, is a touching and transformative experience whether you are a parent or not.
This film is about not defining love or the way you live your life by the constraints society has placed on you. It’s a glimpse into a place and time when, much like right now, the rumblings of change were happening, much to the chagrin of some people who prefer to look backward instead of forward.
Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger both balance the brevity of the script and the strength of their characters with raw emotion when it’s elicited and restraint when it’s required. Not to mention, the two have a chemistry that’s magnetic and delicate at the same time. The pair demonstrate the kind of love that fills you up and makes you better.
Based on the 2009 novel by Fiona Shaw, Tell it to the Bees is full of exquisite portraiture that brings this 1950s love story from spine to screen. The bees are brought to life courtesy of a blend of live bees and special effects, creating a striking visual addition to several of the pivotal scenes. One in particular features the simultaneous culmination of two viscerally violent acts against two different women the results of both devastation and a shift in power.
This cause and effect, the heartache that leads to the hope, leads Jean and Lydia down a path that strengthens their bond and plants the seeds that will bud change in the society around them. Much like last year’s Disobedience, the bittersweetness of this film reflects the frustration of a time and place full of love that’s strong enough to push back and force growing pains of progression within a community. Although a historical drama, Tell it to the Bees is a timely exposition on what can happen when love blooms, you choose your own family, and then you watch them grow.