Without giving too much away, here's a synopsis. The movie is set in the south in 1964, when the the Civil Rights Act was passed, and a year before the Voting Rights Act became law. Lily, a girl of 14, is tormented by the fact that she accidentally shot her mother as a toddler. Lily develops a strange, puzzling affinity for bees. Her father is abusive towards her, while the black housekeeper, Rosaleen, is a mother figure to Lily. One day, Lily accompanies Rosaleen into town, because Rosaleen wants to register to vote. (Forty-four years later, we've elected an African American president--finally.) Racist white men confront them and beat Rosaleen viciously. Rosaleen is also arrested, and held in custody at the medical ward of the local jail. Outraged, Lily goes to the jail to free her friend. Lily and Rosaleen decide to "run away" and leave Lily's father's house. They chance upon a store in a small town, which sells jars of honey (with intriguing labels) from the Boatwright sisters. Lily and Rosaleen journey to Tiburon, South Carolina to meet the Boatwrights and end up living with them. Here, Lily begins to unravel the mysteries that enshroud her deceased mother.
This film celebrates love, and its power to transform lives in astonishing ways. Brilliant performances by the female leads--Dakota Fanning (as Lily), Jennifer Hudson (as Rosaleen), Alicia Keys (as June), Queen Latifah (as August), and Sophie Okonedo (as May)--make this movie exceptional, academy-award winning material. These strong, positive women are wonderful in their roles. They don't play empty-headed sex objects but women with strength, courage, independence, and kindness. We need more movie roles like this for women! While the actresses may steal the show, the acting by Paul Bettany (as T. Ray), Nate Parker (as Neil), and Tristan Wilds (as Zach) is also excellent. The Secret Life of Bees is both heartrending and uplifting, as a movie and as a book.