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A film about the spelling bee contest does not sound like it should be exciting or compelling, but Akeelah and the Bee manages to be both.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a young girl living in an LA ghetto, attending an underfunded school where education is not a priority for most of the students. But Akeelah is intelligent and has a talent – she can spell. She can spell tough, complicated words that many of us haven’t even heard before. Her teacher wants her to enter the school spelling bee and see if she can’t make it all the way to the national bee.

A former spelling bee winner, Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) agrees to coach Akeelah, and together they embark on a journey that metaphorically takes them much further than either could have imagined. Akeelah herself becomes a symbol of hope for the people in her neighbourhood, who rarely have much to celebrate.

I was surprised by how much this film drew me in. I do love words and spelling, but I wasn’t sure how it would work in a film. Keke Palmer, who was just 13 when this film was made (Akeelah is 11) showed a real talent and I loved her. Fishburne was his usual reliable self in a layered portrait of a man trying to help someone achieve something which seemed out of reach. Angela Bassett is always, always brilliant, and certainly was here as Akeelah’s mother, initially resistant to her daughter taking part in the bee.

The ending genuinely did have me shouting at the TV! I won’t spoilt it, but I thought it did finish on a perfect note. If you are thinking that a film about a spelling bee does not sound like your kind of thing, give this a try…you might be pleasantly surprised.

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