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The Secret Life of Bees
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1960s South Carolina, young Lily (Fanning) is traumatised by her role in the death of her mother at the hands of her brutal father T Ray (Bettany) several years earlier.
The only humanity in her life now comes from the black servant girl Rosaleen (Hudson) who lives with her and T Ray.
When Rosaleen gets beaten up by the local racists when she goes to exercise her newfound right to register to vote, she and Lily run away from home and end up being taken in by the Boatright sisters, at their honey farm.
The household is run by the maternal eldest sister August (Queen Latifah), who becomes a mother-figure to both of them.
Rounding off their new extended family are the cantankerous June (Keys) and simple, depressive May (Okonedo).
For the first time, Lily experiences what it’s like to be in the comfort of a true family and Rosaleen feels wanted, until T Ray traces them and they’re all forced to confront their expectations for the future.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

On one level, this is a coming of age film that’s as sweet as the honey produced by the bees of the title.
On another, it’s a worthy critique of the racism in America’s southern states, even after the apparent success of the black civil rights movement.
But both of these themes have been done many times before – often in the same film.
There’s little original here, from the violent father who ignores (rather than abuses) his needy daughter to the difficulty the red necks have in accepting the societal change forced on them.
Dakota Fanning is the centre of the film, appearing in almost every scene, and serving as a strong core around which the story is built. She’s clearly talented, but doesn’t really have much to do with her magnetic screen persona in this film.
The three Boatright sisters are so different and such stereotypes that they surely represent different areas of society, rather than any serious attempt to represent a real family.
Bettany turns in a performance like we’ve rarely seen from him – a selfish, angry American, who doesn’t really know why life has treated him so badly, but takes it out on everyone around him anyway.
The film is harmless enough, but it really has little bite to its social commentary, not least because there’s nothing in it we’ve neither seen nor heard before.

Opens nationwide 5th December 2008

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