The Secret Life Of Bees


Reviewed by: Mike Davies

The Secret Life Of Bees
"It’s all very Oprah chick flick, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a real soul."

Having established herself as a child star in Uptown Girls, War Of The Worlds and Charlotte's Web, Dakota Fanning comes of age in Prince-Bythewood's mellow adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's best-seller.

It's 1964 South Carolina, and barely able to remember her dead mother (but believing she accidentally killed her) and told by her drunken, abusive father (Paul Bettany) that she left because she never loved her, 14-year-old Lily (Fanning) runs away from home with their African-American housekeeper Rosalee (Jennifer Hudson) after an incident with three rednecks lands the latter in hospital.

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Fetching up in a neighbouring small town, Lily spots a jar of honey bearing the same label as one she found among the souvenirs of her mother. This, in turn, leads them to the home of beekeeper August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her two sisters; spiky cello playing Civil Rights activist June (Alicia Keyes) and the hypersensitive, mentally troubled May (a tremendous Sophie Okonedo).

Here, in the Boatwright family bosom, Rosalee will find her black identity and Lily will experience her first romance, an interracial relationship that, time and place being what they are, will spark inevitable (if unexpected) tragedy. Discovering the connection between her mother and August, Lily will also learn the painful but healing truth about why she was supposedly abandoned.

It’s all very Oprah chick flick, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a real soul. Themes of racism and the Civil Rights struggle run deep, but are never overstated (May's simple handwritten reference to the three girls killed in an Alabama church burning is potent enough) and while Lily's internal journey of self-discovery and emotional catharsis is bathed in a warmly nostalgic glow it never looks to hide the dark heart or sugar the rawness with sentimentality.

The cast are terrific, Latifah radiating maternal compassion as powerfully as Bettany exudes self-loathing cruelty while both Keys and Okenodo deliver beautifully modulated nomination worthy turns. And, at its heart though is Fanning who takes the film on her shoulders for a deeply felt performance that marks her as the Jodie Foster of her generation.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2009
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A young girl, escaping from her tyrannical father in Civil Rights era South Carolina, finds a very different surrogate family.
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Jeff Robson ***

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Writer: Gina Prince-Bythewood, based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd

Starring: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany

Year: 2008

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


London 2008

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