The Secret Life of Bees
dir-scr Gina Prince-Bythewood
with Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Paul Bettany, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Hilarie Burton, Shondrella Avery, Renée Clark, Sharon Morris
release US 17.Oct.08, UK 5.Dec.08
08/US Fox 1h40
The Secret Life of Bees
Queen bee: Fanning and Latifah

hudson bettany keys
London film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Secret Life of Bees While this film is every bit as warm and emotional as it looks, it also sets its story against a turbulent time in American history. And the cast make sure things don't get too sugary.

In 1964 South Carolina, 14-year-old Lily Owens (Fanning) can only barely remember her mother and doubts that her angry father (Bettany) loves her. So when their housekeeper Rosaleen (Hudson) is injured in a racial attack, Lily joins with her on the run, taking refuge with beekeepers who have some connection to her mother. The house is run by August (Latifah) with her sisters May and June (Okonedo and Keys), and as Lily finds a place to belong, she knows she'll also have to confront her past.

There's an autobiographical feel to this film, and director Prince-Blythewood maintains the honeyed glow of nostalgia throughout even the film's darkest passages. She also allows some actors to indulge in over-smiley performances and over-groomed appearances, while every set is over-designed to perfection. Even the weather seems to contribute to the beautiful Hollywood sheen, as beams of sunshine cascade through ethereal woodland settings.

Within this, we're thankfully still able to see the story's raw edges, as events dip into shocking violence and tough introspection. And three of the performances catch this roughness: Fanning is terrific in her first teen role, pouring attitude and emotion into every scene. Hudson beautifully conveys her character's evolution from suppressed minority to a woman with equal rights in the eyes of the law, if not quite in the eyes of the culture. And Bettany is superb as a man who is utterly lost and lashing out at everyone around him.

These three actors bring out the script's darkness with remarkable skill. The rest of the cast is good, but they settle for easier performances that don't look or feel quite as real. This uneven style of acting actually makes the film more interesting, highlighting the story's challenging themes and undercutting the otherwise girly ambience. And in the end, Lily's internal journey is surprisingly moving, as she comes to accept the fact that there are things we can never understand. And that perfect love is very rare indeed.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 15.Oct.08

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Secret Life of Bees Tracy M, New Jersey: 5/5 "Maybe if the women were nappy headed and spoke broken english, then maybe the film would be more 'right'. I read the book and I think the characters 'acted' appropriately in accordance to the book. I'm a bit confused with your term 'over groomed', not all people of color back in the '60s look and act like slaves." (22.Nov.08)
ED REPLY: The word "over-groomed" refers to the fact that some of the actors in this film had eyebrows plucked to microscopic levels of precision, as well as hundred-dollar haircuts and make-up that was clearly applied with a team of artists using tiny brushes. This kind of grooming was unavailable to anyone in the 1960s, regardless of race or economic status. And it's pretty hard to achieve today unless you're a big star.
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall