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Secret Life of Bees, The


Stars: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Paul Bettany, Hilarie Burton

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

This is a nice, warm film, if a little long and predictable, that could have been made in 1964, the year in which it's set. It's South Carolina: 14-year-old Lily (Fanning), ill-treated by her short-fused father (Bettany), leaves home with the family's black housekeeper Rosaleen (Hudson), who's still downtrodden and ill-educated at a time when President Johnson has just signed the ground-breaking Civil Rights Bill.

Racked with guilt at the memory of accidentally shooting her mother (Burton) 10 years ago in a family row, Lily, with Rosaleen in tow, ends up at the home of the intelligent and independent bee-keeping Boatwright sisters (Latifah, Okonedo, Keys) who, coincidentally, had given her brutalised mother shelter some years ago. Here, Lily learns about bee-keeping and finds the first stirrings of love for Zack (Tristan Wilds) - fuelling a racial incident when they go to the movies together - while Rosaleen slowly becomes an independent woman.

This is one of those intrinsically American dramas where laughter, tears, drama and tragedy have equal votes. Atmosphere and sentiment abound and there's another warm-and-wise character for Latifah, now the Queen of such roles. All the other performances are decent - although Fanning's is not as deeply-felt as it might be - and the while thing flows along as gently as the honey into the sisters' jars.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by PostWorks.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 30 Nov 2008