When one of your favorite novels becomes a movie, it’s always a gamble whether the filmmaker’s vision will match the one that’s firmly embedded in your imagination. Fear not with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s entertaining, enlightening adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s award-winning best-seller.
In rural South Carolina in the summer of 1964, just after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, troubled 14 year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) runs away from her coldly abusive, widower father (Paul Bettany), dragging along her caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), who has been assaulted by rednecks. Haunted by guilty memories of her mother, who died in a tragic accident when she was only four, Lily desperately tries to connect with the few maternal fragments she can piece together, seeking safety and shelter in Tiburon at the 28-acre farm of the cultured, honey-making Boatwright sisters.
“Liftin’ someone’s heart, now that matters. The whole problem with people is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it,” muses nurturing August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), who makes sensitive Lily her bee-keeping apprentice in the Pepto-Bismol pink house she shares with her sisters: the warily independent cellist, June (Alicia Keys) and the vulnerable, simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo). Lily’s also befriended by August’s earnest godson (Tristan Wilds) who yearns to be a lawyer.
Screenwriter/director Gina Prince-Blythewood (“Love & Basketball”) retains all the gentle lyricism of the complex narrative and achieves a near-miracle of casting. Dakota Fanning exudes the subtle, emotion-stretching mastery and limber spontaneity that mark superb screen acting, while Sophie Okenedo and Paul Bettany give strong support.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Secret Life of Bees” is a life-affirming 8, an inspirational story about family, hope and love that tugs at your heartstrings.