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Review: Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger elevate predictable romance ‘Tell It to the Bees’

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Holliday Grainger, left, and Anna Paquin in a scene from “Tell It to the Bees.”
(Good Deed Entertainment)

The most surprising thing about “Tell It to the Bees” doesn’t even happen on camera. Instead it’s the simple fact that this tasteful-to-a-fault literary adaptation about the forbidden love between two women in 1950s Scotland comes from the co-director of … “Super Mario Bros”?

Annabel Jankel, a prolific music video and commercial helmer, hasn’t directed a theatrical feature since that 1993 debacle. And while it’s not immediately clear what drew her to “Bees,” she couldn’t have picked a more radically different 26-years-later follow-up.

Based on a 2009 novel of the same name by writer Fiona Shaw, “Bees” charts the attraction between a struggling mother, Lydia (Holliday Grainger) — whose feckless war-veteran husband (Emun Elliott) suddenly abandons her and their young son, Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) — and the rural town’s new doctor, Jean (Anna Paquin), a whispered-about local who returns after years away. Charlie’s interest in Jean’s bee colonies provides the title, a reference to the belief there’s some spiritual value in sharing your personal secrets with the flying insects.

But nothing stays secret for long in a movie that packs in so many serious issues — from abortion to domestic violence, sexual assault to prejudice and homophobia — it can’t quite do justice to any of them.

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Paquin, in one of her strongest performances since “The Piano,” and especially Grainger (best known for a substantial résumé of British television) shoulder the film’s dramatic burdens with grace and ease. They’re a pleasure to watch. But the unassumingly square and overly familiar film simply isn’t the buzzworthy vehicle their work deserves.

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Gregor Selkirk as Charlie in a scene from "Tell It to the Bees."
(Neil Davidson / Good Deed Entertainment)

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‘Tell It to the Bees’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Vintage Los Feliz 3; also on VOD

geoff.berkshire@latimes.com

@geoffberkshire


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