Set in South Carolina in 1964, this is the tale of Lily Owens a 14-year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother. To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father, Lily flees with Rosaleen, her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother\'s past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters, Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping.
Just as some people regard honey as sickly sweet while others have a Pooh Bear-like passion for it, The Secret Life of Bees won’t be to everyone’s taste. As a mere male I’m hardly the target audience for this poignant tale of female bonding and empowerment, but the overwhelmingly female audience at the screening I attended seemed appreciative and attentive"¦.. while the occasional sniffles and blowing of noses suggested an emotional connection with the characters.
Based on Sue Monk Kidd\'s popular 2002 novel, the movie does a fine job in re-creating the Deep South of the 1960s, when bigotry and discrimination were rampant despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The film opens with a devastating flashback: four-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning) accidentally kills her mother while she’s having a violent argument with her abusive husband T. Ray (Paul Bettany). Fast forward 10 years and Lily is cared for by the housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) while T. Ray barely tolerates her. When Rosaleen is arrested after being assaulted by rednecks. Lily somehow extricates her from hospital and they flee, ending up at a grand old pink house owned by the Boatwright sisters: the motherly August (Queen Latifah), the simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo), who’s never gotten over the death of her twin sister April, and the icy June (Alicia Keyes), who immediately resents Lily for reasons that later become clear.
August lets them stay in return for their labour: Rosaleen in the kitchen and Lily in the family’s successful honey-making business.
The mid-section of the movie meanders as August dispenses homilies while teaching Lily all about bee-keeping, June spurns marriage proposals from her boyfriend, and Lily is befriended by August’s young godson Zach (Tristan Wilds), an aspiring lawyer.
When Lily and Zach go to the movies and dare to sit together in the segregated cinema, all hell breaks loose. This triggers a tragic incident in the Boatwright family, while T. Ray sets out to find his daughter leading to a confrontation that you just know is coming.
Directing her second film, Gina Prince-Bythewood (whose Love & Basketball won an Independent Spirit award for best first feature), has a sure grasp on the material, although the pacing is a problem, some of the dialogue is cloying, and she over-milks the sentimentality at times.
Showing increasing maturity, Fanning is impressive as the awkward adolescent who fears she wrecks the lives of those around her, until the Boatwright sisterhood help her find her own identity.
Queen Latifah can be over-powering but here she’s sensibly restrained and warm, and Hudson, Keyes and Okonedo make the most of their supporting roles.
Remarkably, Hudson has said she knew little of the struggles of the civil rights era until she was offered this role. 'All of it surprised me," she admitted. 'I didn’t realise how unaware I was to what happened during that time."
This movie celebrates girl power, with the refreshing twist that it’s a group of black women who provide redemption for a white girl, rather than the reverse, and it may resonate with some blokes who tag along with their significant others. The score mostly consists of contemporary pop tunes, which are oddly out of kilter with the period.