Dakota Fanning used to scare me. She and sister Elle reminded me of the Children of the Corn
. But it has to be said she was a phenomenally talented child, and she is developing into a wonderful actress of an altogether grown uppier breed. The Secret Life of Bees sees her playing Lily Owens, a 14 year old girl living in South Carolina in the 1960s.
The first line of the film: "I killed my mother when I was 4 years old... that's what I knew about myself." That's the sadness that follows her throughout the film, and gradually she unravels the truth of what led to that tragedy. Her discovering what happened is the spine of the story, albeit a somewhat peripheral one.
Her abusive father is played by British actor Paul Bettany (in what is perhaps the performance of his career to date) and her nanny, Rosaleen, is played by Jennifer Hudson. When Rosaleen stands up to some racists in town and is badly beaten, she and Lily run for their lives.
They find themselves at the door of a candy-pink house where 3 sisters live: August, May and June Boatwright - played by Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys, respectively. August is a big lady with a big heart who pours all her love into her family and making honey. This is where the bees come in, and where the film really and truly begins.
The entire film is draped in honey: it's golden and easy. There are dragonflies and dappled leaves, budding love affairs and cold lemonade on the porch. All set to a backdrop of the buzz of bumblebees, and the civil rights movement, and the loss of loved ones.
In several places, it's not an easy film to watch. It's amazing that 3 of the stars (Latifah, Keyes and Hudson) started off as singers, as their performances are flawless, with real pathos and power. That being said, not one person lets it down. In fact, I can't think of a single thing wrong with the entire film. Its pacing is perfect; the plot stays close to the novel; it's beautiful to look at; the acting is exemplary; the music is lovely and the direction is magnificent.
It's a beautiful film that you'll want to watch again and again, and it is fully deserving of all 5 stars.