Akeelah And The Bee (12A)



Drama (2006)
112mins US

Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong, Keke Palmer
Director: Doug Atchison
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Young high school student Akeelah discovers a natural gift for spelling, winning her school's inaugural bee with a flourish. When noted professor Dr Larabee spots Akeelah's talent and agrees to tutor the precocious child for the televised national finals, the girl discovers a new strength and resilience, inspiring her to heal wounds with her hard-working mother.

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LondonNet Film Review

Akeelah And The Bee
Ursprache - a parent language, especially one reconstructed from the evidence of later languages....

Akeelah and the Bee. Copyright: © 2005 LGF. All Rights Reserved. That seemingly innocuous nine-letter word was worth a staggering USD20,000 to 13-year-old Katharine Close, one of the contestants in the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee. By correctly spelling ‘Ursprache' during the live final, broadcast on the ABC Television Network to more than 14 million viewers, the student from Spring Lake, New Jersey, joined an elite list of youngsters to triumph in the prestigious tournament of recall and verbal dexterity.

Ms Close beat 274 other competitors to the top prize, successfully spelling her way through 20 nerve-racking rounds where she faced such gems as ‘gobemouche', ‘cucullate', ‘recrementitious', ‘izzat' and ‘kundalini'.

Every year, millions of children across America take part in school spelling bees and locally sponsored bees, all pursuing one dream: a place in the final, held in Washington D.C.. The agonising tension of the final - the devastation of a misplaced consonant; the unabashed joy of overcoming a really tricky word - was captured brilliantly by Jeffrey Blitz in his 2002 documentary Spellbound, and more recently in the fictional drama The Bee Season.

Now, writer-director Doug Atchison uses the Scripps National Spelling Bee as a backdrop to this charming and inspirational coming of age tale, set in south Los Angeles. Following a well-trodden path, Akeelah And The Bee conceals few narrative surprises: we know the diminutive heroine must somehow reach the televised final, in order to give the film its heart-stopping grandstand finish. However, Atchison throws as many obstacles in the youngster's way as possible, and when he does finally defy our expectations, it's to ensure his spellers learn a valuable lesson about integrity.


Twelve-year-old actress Keke Palmer inhabits the central role with effortless grace, far beyond her tender years. She carries the film and doesn't strike a single wrong emotional note as her fearless protagonist strives for greatness against phenomenal odds. Palmer plays precocious, quietly spoken student Akeelah Anderson, a youngster from a predominantly African-American community, who possesses a natural gift for spelling. Reluctant to stand out from the crowd, Akeelah tries to conceal her talent achieving middling grades, content to remain in the background with her best friend Georgia (Sahara Garey).

Akeelah reluctantly enters the school's spelling bee and to everyone's surprise, not least her own, she wins, delighting high school principal Mr Welch (Curtis Armstrong) and his friend, noted professor Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a former winner of the competition. Larabee senses a raw talent, ready to be nurtured, and he agrees to tutor Akeelah for the televised national finals, unaware that she is doing so behind the back of her hard-working single mother, Tanya (Angela Bassett), who has her hands full keeping with her eldest daughter Kiana (Erica Hubbard).

During her sessions with her brusque mentor, a man scarred by personal tragedy, Akeelah discovers a new strength and resilience, inspired by a quotation on the study wall: "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure."

Friends and neighbours, even Akeelah's older brother Terrence (Julito McCullum), lend their support as the girl makes her way to Washington, where she faces some of the best spellers in the country including friendly Javier (J.R. Villareal) and deadly serious Dylan (Sean Michael), whose father (Tzi Ma) demands victory… or else.

Akeelah And The Bee is emotionally manipulative, without question. Atchison doesn't resist a single opportunity to show how Akeelah's journey of self-discovery enriches everyone around her, healing deep wounds. The touching father-daughter relationship between Akeelah and Dr Larabee is nicely handled by Palmer and Fishburne, while Bassett commands the screen in her vastly underwritten supporting role. Atchison's script isn't word perfect - the contrivances pile up in the final act and some of the racial stereotyping is borderline offensive - but the film has heart, and when it asks us to cry with joy, we do so, willingly

Sophie Abell


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