Tell That To The Winter Sea (2024) – Film Review

Tell That To The Winter Sea (2024) Film Review

Director: Jaclyn Bethany
Cast: Greta Bellamacina, Amber Anderson, Josette Simon
Certificate: 15

By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe

Occasionally a film comes along that is so engagingly thought through and visually beautiful that it encourages you to gaze into every corner and see the treasures displayed there. On the surface, this is a simple story of a young woman gathering her friends together for a hen weekend and ritualistic leaving behind of the things of her youth to step into the responsibilities of marriage… but there are so many more layers here.

Jo, the bride to be, is played by Greta Bellamacina, well known as an actor, feminist poet, 2014 Young Poet Laureate of London, model, and winner of the 2022 Stanley Kubrick award for her performance in Riccardo Vannuccini’s film Commedia. Bellamacina is married to the Scottish artist and poet, Robert Montgomery, who is, incidentally, about 20-years older than her, an age gap echoed in Jo and John’s relationship in the film. The house featured in Tell That To The Winter Sea is Bellamacina and Montgomery’s own home, which they restored and co-wrote a book about – A House Is A Dance (New River Press 2023). The film would have us believe it is the home of John’s aunt Iris, and when Jo opens the fridge door, a post-it-note reads, ‘Remember a house is a dance. Wish I could be there. Iris.’

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The cross-over connections don’t stop there. Scarlet is the first of the weekend guests to arrive. The house holds a number of Montgomery’s artworks, which appear in shot as markers through the story. When Jo awkwardly answers the door to her first love, Scarlet, it is impossible to miss a copy of Montgomery’s Old Street billboard poem, the colours reversed to black on white and utilising a different font, which lends a much more optimistic and lighter tone to the text:

‘Memories of Mediterranean flowers
In the streets of New York helicopters
Up there every morning above the
Water towers there is not silence
Only when the light is golden
Enough to make the buildings read
As landscape/Every morning now
Some of the things you love will
Always be behind you’

The viewer instantly picks up that Jo is ready to move on. The walls are white, her clothes are white, her hair is blonde, the door she is about to open is white. Scarlet was someone she loved, but that is already behind her.

Scarlet is played by Amber Anderson, perhaps best known for her roles as Jane Fairfax in the 2020 film of Emma and Lady Diana Mitford in Peaky Blinders, but also an established model and musician. She convincingly carries the role of a teenage Scarlet too. Scarlet stands on the doorstep, knocking on a door that is pink, ambiguously suggesting that for her the past has not been fully dealt with, dressed in clothing that shows her standard of living is much lower than Jo, make-up free, her head bowed downward, and over-awed by the grandeur of the house. She is stepping over the threshold into Jo’s world where pale pinks, pistachio greens, lilacs, and pastel patchwork coverlets drape white, seemingly perfect surroundings, like piped icing frills on a teetering wedding cake.

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“Damned soul”

Scarlet picks up the book that Jo has been reading. It is Arthur Rimbaud’s 1873 collection of prose and poetry, A Season In Hell, and Scarlet reads aloud from the passage where Satan is being addressed, ‘Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed…’, the rest of that passage left hanging in the air as Rimbaud relays how he believes himself to be a damned soul for his gay relationship with the poet Paul Verlaine. In a living room, where Montgomery’s mantra painting, The End Of Grief, is the most prominent thing, Jo explains that John is adapting the book into a play, changing Rimbaud and his lover into females, and will direct her in the main part. Scarlet uses the word ‘lesbian’, but Jo emphasises that the piece is ‘strong’, attempting to disassociate herself from their former relationship and to fend off Scarlet’s questions.

Scarlet tries to draw Jo into remembering; a task aided by flashback scenes to their younger years when a shared love of ballet developed into a first serious romance. As they left school, Scarlet gave Jo a ring, and Jo wrote a letter to her ‘first and only love’. The film is seasoned through with attempts to play the word games they enjoyed, revive memories, and conjure up old feelings, each aborted attempt poured away as wine from a glass. It becomes apparent that Scarlet has loved other women since and is in a relationship now, but she experiences episodic depressions and is not truly happy.

It is harder to determine whether Jo is totally contented to be marrying a man whose lifestyle may mean her surrendering her career as a dancer, and for whom beautiful young women are ever present, admits that she still gets lonely and down, but she believes that he sees women as the most inspiring sex and would never betray her.

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“Cleverly done”

As the sun rises on a new day, Scarlet and Jo dance in unified choreography. It is a piece they put together many years ago in very different circumstances but is now performed as a symbol of ‘letting go’. Jo refers to Scarlet as ‘Scar’ – she is the reminder of something that once happened but has healed over.

The next guest to arrive in a gorgeous, pink vintage Nissan Figaro (actually owned in real life by Bellamacina and Montgomery) is Kat, played by the ever-elegant Josette Simon. Simon brings the same energy to her roles for the RSC and the National as she does for Broadchurch and The Split, and Tell That To The Winter Sea is no different. As soon as she steps onto the driveway, the air is charged with something more than a little special that lifts the proceedings so far to a completely new level. Kat was there when Jo met John.

Jade, played by Tamsin Egerton (another RSC actor), is an old schoolfriend of both Scarlet and Jo, heavily pregnant, who when the women change into bridal wear chooses an Ann Boleyn outfit, as symbolic of the queen who was discarded and killed because she gave birth to a girl. Egerton was pregnant when the film was being made, and the inclusion of this into the script is extremely cleverly done and adds another dimension to the discussions of what it is to be a woman.

Jen, played by Bebe Cave, is Jo’s younger sister, who was protected when their mother died, causing a chasm between them. Jo quickly realises how little she knows her own sibling.

Lily, played by Eastenders favourite and a member of girl group Neon Jungle, Jessica Plummer, is another schoolfriend, but one who has remained loyal to their strict Catholic upbringing. She provides a different kind of viewpoint to the proceedings but suffers in that her own needs are not always met.

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“Something precious”

A special mention needs to be made of Elizabeth Mascolo who plays Jo as a teenager and does a superb job of it. All the cast display an extraordinary range of women’s voices, exploring the complexities of femininity and female relationships.

Wedding gowns, cake, and a beautiful house, the scene seems set for a wonderful weekend of girly celebration, but the cracks soon begin to show. Scarlet knows that Jo stole something precious from her, and that her youthful sunset effusions of never-ending love have not stood the test of time, but can she truly let go?

Greek and Egyptian mythology is woven through the film, sometimes in ways that feel a little forced. Jo works with the Triton dance company. Triton was the son of Poseiden and Amphitrite, usually depicted as a merman and a god of the sea. The trattoria owner that Jo knows in Paris is called Raphael. Raphael was also the name of the sixteenth-century Italian artist who famously painted The Triumph of Galatea, depicting the myth of the sea nymph Galatea’s illicit love affair with a mortal shepherd boy Acis. The one-eyed giant Polyphemis slayed Acis when he found the two together. Triton is depicted in the fresco abducting a sea nymph. Isis – the goddess of motherhood and fertility, Aphrodite – the goddess of sexuality and love, and Persephone – the goddess of the underworld, all get a look in and lead to stories of women’s ill-treatment by men. Iris is the Egyptian goddess of healing and magic.

Tell That To The Winter Sea (2028) Film Review stills


The soundtrack for the film is haunting, all written to accompany the action, and every lyric having meaning and place. It is the exquisite attention to detail that makes Tell That To The Winter Sea so delightful to watch, whether the viewer is totally onboard with the subject matter or not.

The sun rises and the sun sets. Jo is no longer the dark-haired teenager whose first love was a girl, but a blonde, serious woman who steals away from the party to talk to the man she loves.

The guests scatter as Montgomery’s mantra painting, The Beginning Of Hope, is in full view.

Jo sums the weekend up by saying,
“Isn’t that the point of all this.
To look back on a moment before all this changes.
Go on, please.”

Tell That To The Winter Sea is made by Kaleidoscope Entertainment and available to buy & rent on digital on all major platforms, and will be available on Amazon Prime Video Direct from 29th July

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