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The Secret Life of Bees

The Baltimore Sun

Starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood. Released by 20th Century Fox. $29.99 (Blu-ray $39.95) *** 1/2

Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees, the story of a runaway young white girl in the '60s-era South who finds a loving surrogate family in the guise of three black sisters raising honey, has become a much-loved staple of high-school reading lists. Writer-director Gina Prince-Blythewood's film adaptation should disappoint none of the book's fans.

Dakota Fanning is 14-year-old Lily Owens, on the run from a father who abuses her both physically (with beatings) and mentally (by insisting her late mother never cared for her). Fed up one day, she sets out for the small town of Tiburon, S.C. Not that she knows anything about the town or who lives there; all she does know is that one of the few things her mother left behind was a black Madonna with that town's name on its back.

Accompanied by her surrogate mother, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), a black worker on her daddy's farm who had been savagely beaten and jailed for trying to register to vote, Lily finally makes it to the promised land of Tiburon. And there she finds her salvation, in the form of the Boatwright sisters (the magnificent Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo), three resolutely independent black women who accept Lily into their home.

The Secret Life of Bees may not be the most revolutionary coming-of-age story ever told, but it's among the most affecting. Magnificent acting from the entire cast, combined with Prince-Blythewood's clear-eyed understanding and trust of her source material, made for one of the most honestly moving films of 2008.

Other releases: : The Natalie Wood Collection (Warner Home Video, $59.98) and Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno (The Weinstein Co., $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95).

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