This is a beautifully-produced coming of age story, set in South Carolina in 1964 - at the beginning of the civil rights era.
After her mother dies in violent circumstances, Lily, played by Dakota Fanning, runs away from her abusive father (Paul Bettany) with the black family servant Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) who has been savagely beaten for trying to register to vote. They are taken in by the matriarchal August Boatwright, (Queen Latifah), who runs a honey-making farm with her sisters, uptight June, a music teacher and simple-minded May (Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo). The women live in an airy shocking pink house and revere a large ship's figurehead of a black woman with fist outstretched - their 'Black Madonna'.
Lily and Rosaleen soon become part of the family, happily working for their keep as their injuries, both emotional and physical begin to heal. Unaware of the prejudice of the townspeople, Lily strikes up an innocuous friendship with August's godson, Zach which leads to tragedy. Characters are very dramatically defined in this hyper-real tale, based on the best selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd. But overall it is a touching story about family, redemption, forgiveness and the understanding that love is always possible despite our past.
The release of this film on the eve of the inauguration of America's first Black president, could not be better timed. It is also worth seeing for the superb performances of all the cast - especially Queen Latifah, Dakotah Fanning, who must be the best child actress around at the moment and Paul Bettany - who I didn't recognise. The Secret Life of Bees goes on general release in the UK on 5 December. Unfortunately the violent scenes would not make it suitable for children.
first posted LONDON - 26 November 2008 - 300 words