Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning): The fourteen-year-old girl who finds herself on the Boatwright bee farm after escaping her torturous life at home. Lily is the protagonist and narrator of the story.
Terrence Ray Owens a.k.a. "T. Ray" (Paul Bettany): A farm owner. He is an abusive widower and the father of Lily Owens.
Deborah Fontanel Owens (Hilarie Burton): Mother of Lily. She died when Lily was 4 years old.
Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson): A worker on T. Ray's peach farm, also a "mother figure" for Lily.
May Boatwright (Sophie Okonedo): One of the three sisters who takes in Lily. May suffers constant depressions which leads into a drastic change in the story.
June Boatwright (Alicia Keys): The third sister who takes in Lily. Lily is disliked by her for past reasons.
August Boatwright (Queen Latifah): A caring beekeeper, she keeps Lily under her wing.
The Daughters of Mary: A group of women (and one man) led by August who honour the Black Madonna as a holy figure. The members of the Daughters of Mary are: Queenie, Queenie's daughter Violet, Mabelee, Cressie, Lunelle, Sugar-Girl, and Sugar-Girl's husband Otis.
Zachary Taylor (Tristan Wilds): A 16-year-old teenager. Zachary is August's godson, with whom Lily eventually falls in love. He plays football at the local high school and studies to become a lawyer one day. He works on the honey plant during the summer, and works closely with both August and Lily.
I didn't know too much about this movie, I'm embarrassed to say, though I had heard of the book. I'm not one to read many critically acclaimed stories, so this one didn't make a dent in my radar whatsoever. But when my friend Diana suggested seeing it, I was like "okay" but inside feeling kinda "meh" about it.
Boy was I wrong! I guess I wasn't sure what I was expecting (shout out to Holly), but what I got was so much more. When we first see Lily, at age 14, she is thinking back to when she's around four, and her last memories of her mother on the day she died. She remembers that day often, and is haunted at the thought, instilled by her father, that her mother was leaving and not taking Lily with her. All she has left of her mother are some momentos she keeps hidden in a box: a pair of gloves, a picture, and a small wooden painting of a black Madonna with "Tiburon, S.C." written on the back of it.
Her nanny Rosaleen goes into town one day to register to vote, and is sneered at because she is black. When she doesn't back down from the racists, she is attacked and beaten. She ends up going to the hospital under arrest, and Lily comes up with a plan to get her out of the hospital and together they both run away from home. In the unbearable heat they walk and walk, until they stop in town one day for something to eat. While at the store, Lily makes a discovery which leads her to the Boatwright residence.
One thing about Lily is that she knows how to spin a story, and when she and Rosaleen end up at the Boatwright doorstep, she convinces August Boatwright to let them stay for a short while. August agrees, announcing Rosaleen can help in the kitchen and Lily can help collect honey. August's sister May is happy to have new people in the house, however smart, uptight sister June is not. Old wounds re-surface with Lily's arrival.
Soon the days turn into weeks, and overall their stay at the Boatwright house is right as rain, for a time. Lily learns about the "secret life" of bees, and even falls in love for the first time with August's godson. But racism still lives strong in the South, and it causes pain and lives are forever changed. After a tragedy staggers the family, Lily confesses to August why she's really there and ends up learning something about herself. It's right around this time that Lily's father discovers where she's been all this time, and he wants her back. When he comes to take her away, Lily realizes she's not afraid of her father, not like before, and she declares that she wants to stay with August. Lily has learned what it really means to be loved, and she's not willing to give that up for the unhappy life she had before.
This movie made me laugh, cry and really think. I loved every minute of it, from Rosaleen's defiant stand to Lily's made-up stories. From August's smoothing ways to June's stubborn ways and May's child-like happiness. There is such strength and love in this movie, but also sadness and resignation for the way things are, things that can't be changed overnight.
Dakota Fanning is simply wonderful as Lily Owens. You can see the wisdom just shining in her eyes, and how she comes to accept what cannot be, at least not for her. I'm never sure how to take Jennifer Hudson as an actress, but I enjoyed her version of Rosaleen. Queen Latifah has always been a favorite of mine, and she shines as August Boatwright, a constant maternal figure in Lily's life who has made peace with the choices she's made. Sophie Okonedo brings an innocence and a sadness to May that will bring tears to your eyes. I knew I'd seen her before but had to Google her, and found out she'd been in another movie I really enjoyed, "Martin Child". I'd never seen Alicia Keys act before but I thought she was spot-on as June, the disapproving sister. I also like the male characters in this movie: Tristan Wilds as Zachary, Lily's crush, and Nate Parker as Neil, June's beleaguered suitor.
I haven't seen a movie in a long time that rang so much emotion out of me, and one that I didn't want to see end. I think I would have very much liked to stay at the Boatwright house myself. Now I feel strongly compelled to read this book, written by Sue Monk Kidd, and relive this experience, taking the time to savor it. I'm so glad I didn't read the book beforehand, because now I think I'll get so much more out of it.
Rating: ***** out of *****