'The Secret Life of Bees', based on the best-selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, is a homely drama set against the backdrop of racial strife in 1964’s South Carolina. An all-star cast carry this moving drama that at times is a little twee, but mostly very affecting.
The talented Dakota Fanning stars as 14-year-old Lily who flees her abusive, redneck father T. Ray (Paul Bettany) and goes in search of the secret to her mother’s past.
Having died in a tragic accident at home when she was four, her mother’s life and death have long been a mystery to Lily, and she feels that something is being hidden from her by her uncommunicative father.
Her only friend, their black housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), is viciously beaten while trying to register to vote, and then imprisoned in hospital following the attack.
Lily frees her from the hospital and the two of them abscond to a town where they are taken in by the kindly Boatwright family who make honey for a living. At the helm of the family is wise Miss August, played by Queen Latifah. She has two daughters, beautiful and proud June (Alicia Keys) and vulnerable May (Sophie Okonedo) who seems to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders.
In lieu of bed and board, Lily and Rosaleen pitch in with the managing of the house and beekeeping. What follows is reasonably predictable, but pleasantly paced and enjoyable to behold. Lily has a burgeoning romance with a black teenager that has the potential to be interesting, but is in fact rather unconvincing and feels a bit tacked on.
The cinematography paints a pretty picture of the tranquil lands of South Carolina, which are bathed in a golden-hued light. Although it looks very pretty, the film doesn’t shy away from the issues of racial prejudice and domestic abuse of the time, with several scenes of unexpected grittiness.
Fanning carries the film as Lily and proves herself to be well able for the task. The strong supporting cast lend themselves well to this tale of finding solace and love.
At times whimsical, moving, charming and upsetting, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ is an accomplished film that manages to avoid coming over too sickly-sweet.