If there’s one thing that hasn’t got any easier over time – even with the development of dating apps – it’s our quest for love. Two films at SBS On Demand show that whether it’s 1950s Scotland or modern-day Australia, the road to finding one’s soulmate can be a hard and rocky one, particularly if you’re a member of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Sequin In A Blue Room
This isn’t initially the case for the precocious Sequin, the lead character in the English-language feature Sequin In A Blue Room.
He’s a 16-year-old Sydney high school student who’s more interested in lust than love. Named after the glittery silver top he wears to his casual encounters, Sequin only wants anonymous and uncomplicated sex, meeting with random older men on his hook-up app, then blocking their phone numbers afterwards. He’s a love-’em-and-leave-’em sorta guy.
“I don’t really do that… see people twice,” he tells one conquest, B (Ed Wightman) in an early scene.
“People?” asks the disappointed middle-aged man. “Or just me?”
“Everyone,” Sequin smiles. “That’s just how it works.”
However, our protagonist’s aloof attitude changes dramatically after he’s invited to a group sex party dubbed “Blue Room” and has a brief but intense encounter with the mesmerising Edward (Samuel Barrie). He also spots B at the party but avoids him.
Desperate to see Edward again, the high schooler breaks his cardinal rule and gets back in touch with B, seeking his help. But this puts Sequin in danger when he learns that B has developed an unhealthy obsession with him.
Writer/director Samuel Van Grinsven’s debut effort looks incredibly stylish considering its bare-bones $45,000 budget. It screened at several festivals, won an award for best narrative feature at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival, had a local theatrical release last year and scored international streaming releases this year. Not bad for a movie made as Van Grinsven’s graduate project at the Australian Film Television And Radio School.
“It’s a coming-of-age story that is not remotely concerned with coming out,” he explains in The Queer Review. “Where sexual discovery is not only easy, but accelerated. Where vastly different generations and experiences of being queer collide within a single hook-up app.”
Newcomer Conor Leach is tremendous as the self-assured, sexually confident Sequin, who thinks he doesn’t need love, only to lose his composure when love stares him in the face.
He’s well-supported by a strong cast including Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Sequin’s weary but supportive father and Damian de Montemas as Blue Room organiser, D.
Sequin In A Blue Room is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
Tell It To The Bees
While Sequin is proudly queer and open about his desires, the lesbian lovers in Tell It To The Bees can’t afford that luxury.
The 2018 English-language movie, based on the 2009 novel by Fiona Shaw, opens with Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) returning to her hometown in rural Scotland in 1952 to take over the medical practice left by her father after he passed away.
The amateur apiarist strikes up a friendship with bullied schoolboy Charlie Weekes (a mature performance from talented youngster Gregor Selkirk) who loves bees. Jean also makes a connection with Charlie’s mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) over their struggles to fit in with the local community.
Some residents are resentful toward Jean about a mysterious incident from her past. As for Lydia, she’s an outsider who moved to the town with her emotionally abusive husband Robert (Emun Elliott), who later abandoned her and Charlie. She has been disowned by her disapproving father and made to feel unwelcome by Robert’s family – her only ray of sunshine is Charlie.
Things go from bad to worse for Lydia when she loses her factory job and, on the same day, she and Charlie are evicted from their home. Luckily, Jean comes to their aid by hiring Lydia as a housekeeper and inviting the pair to live in her house.
Drawn together by their mutual unhappiness and loneliness, the women’s friendship slowly blossoms into romance. Paquin is suitably anguished as the sexually repressed Jean, desperately trying to fight against her desires. Eclipsing Paquin in the acting stakes is Grainger as the free-spirited, frustrated Lydia. However, inevitably, rumours start circulating about their relationship and the couple discovers that secrets are hard to hide in a small town.
At one point, Jean and Charlie tend to the beehives in her garden; she says, “You should tell the bees your secrets, then they don’t fly away.” By the time the film ends, the bees have long since fled the hives.
Not everyone liked the changes made in the cinematic adaptation of the novel. This includes Shaw who writes in an article for The Conversation, “I am not in love with the ending. This bittersweetness is a straight person’s finale.” Despite the author’s misgivings, Tell It To The Bees is a powerful exploration of “forbidden” love and the painful price some of us pay to find true love.
Tell It To The Bees is now streaming at SBS On Demand.