This adaptation of a blockbuster novel by American Sue Monk Kidd is a tribute from a white writer to black maternity and sorority wrapped up in a ‘Huckleberry Finn’-esque escape story set in a sleepy ’60s South Carolina about to be roughly awoken by the civil rights movement. It bears many faults, not least a surfeit of overt symbolism, soft clichés, cartoon-characterisation and beginner’s-manual mise-en-scène.
Furthermore, it’s weird to watch its warm, honey-hued light slowly wash out all traces of realism as the film follows its white object of compassion, traumatised, vulnerable and motherless 14-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning, the little queen of precociousness) as she escapes the clutches of her abusive po’ farmer father (an unrecognisable Paul Bettany), alongside her black ‘maid’ (Jennifer Hudson). They flee to the safe house of a trio of beekeeping black sisters (feisty activist Alicia Keys, emotional barometer Sophie Okonedo and earth mother Queen Latifah).
But there’s a purity, clarity and honesty to this feminist heart-warmer’s melodramatic instincts that make it surprisingly moving and satisfying, while the evident generosity of its proffered hand over the racial divide is always welcome and relevant, however naively it may be stated.