Tell That To The Winter Sea


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tell That To The Winter Sea
"The set-up speaks of unrequited love, but the reality is something more complicated."

The rituals associated with traditional mixed sex marriage seem increasingly quaint in today’s society. What was once extremely serious is increasingly treated with affectionate humour, turned into a sort of game in order to make it compatible with the different expectations women have of life. For many LGBTQ+ people, of course, it has always felt strange and othering, a reinforcement of heterocentric assumptions. It’s never more complicated than when people are keeping secrets.

From the moment that Scarlet (Amber Anderson) arrives at the large country house where Jo (Greta Bellamacina) is staying, it’s obvious that her feelings for her run deep. They haven’t seen each other for years, not since the days when they used to attend the same dance classes. Scarlet is a dance teacher now. Jo is preparing to get married – to older, wealthy artist John, whom we never meet. A delicate, elfin thing in lavender and pink, she has bleached her hair, consciously adapted her behaviour. Scarlet wears greens and greys which blend into the background; she is visibly uncomfortable when Jo starts stripping off for a dip in the pool. The set-up speaks of unrequited love, but the reality is something more complicated.

Copy picture

Before long, the pair are joined by an assortment of friends, some of whom they went to school with – an awkward situation for Scarlet, who was bullied and excluded because of her sexuality, though everyone has clearly done some growing up since then. Jo’s younger sister is there too, and older friend Kat (Josette Simon from Blake’s 7, who really doesn’t look much older, despite being in her sixties now). None of them seem to be aware of the complex dynamic between Jo and Scarlet, who, sometimes by talking and sometimes by avoiding each other’s eyes, try to sort out their feelings whilst going through the motions of the aforementioned rituals. The experience is rather like watching the moments before a love affair begins, and yet neither of them wants to harm what Jo has since found.

There is a lot of clumsiness (and patches of clumsy dialogue). There are also moments when the carefully balanced performances deliver something sublime. The rawness of teenage yearnings is revived by what Jo is going through as she contemplates her changing life. Binary concepts of sexuality are challenged, but not in favour of a new system of categories; what emerges in fuzzy and organic, and blurs, in places, with the intense feelings expressed by heterosexual friends. Although some might interpret Jo’s marriage as a retreat from queerness into conventionality, over the course of the film it seems to prompt her to engage with her identity in a more radical way. She and Scarlet both go through deep changes in pursuit of something still sweet where one might have expected only bitterness.

Delicately handled by the all-female cast, Tell That To The Winter Sea is a story of longing and loss which makes room for self-realisation and the emergence of new possibilities. It’s a tribute to all those loves which flourished in secret in difficult times, which nevertheless allows its characters to move on, to engage, in their different ways, with a hard-won better world.

Reviewed on: 31 May 2024
Share this with others on...
Tell That To The Winter Sea packshot
Just a week before Jo gets married, she is reunited with Scarlet, rekindling their friendship and memories of teen romance.

Director: Jaclyn Bethany

Writer: Greta Bellamacina, Jaclyn Bethany

Starring: Greta Bellamacina, Amber Anderson, Tamsin Egerton, Josette Simon, Jessica Plummer, Bebe Cave

Year: 2024

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US


Search database: