Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 best-seller have long been buzzing about the big-screen adaptation. Set in small-town South Carolina circa 1964, The Secret Life of Bees centers on 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), who flees her abusive father (Paul Bettany) and absconds to a nearby town. Joined by her nanny (Jennifer Hudson), herself on the run after she offends local cops for trying to register to vote, Lily finds shelter at a bee farm owned by three sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo).
Since most of the cast are too young to recall life in the segregated South, Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) gave them interactive history lessons. She even sent Hudson and Fanning to a store filled with actors who, unbeknownst to the stars, had been hired to behave as if it were the 1960s. ''They accused me of stealing and made me empty my pockets!'' Hudson recalls. Adds the director: ''The only instruction I gave [Jennifer] was, 'Don't hit anybody.' And thank God I did, because she was really close to clocking one of those guys.''
OUR TWO CENTS The book is justly beloved, but sometimes literary adaptations can overload on earnestness and lose their sting. 10/17