Review: The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel

15:58 26 October 2011

Octavia Spence, left, as Minny Jackson and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark (PA Photo/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK)

Octavia Spence, left, as Minny Jackson and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark (PA Photo/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK)

Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help explores the touching relationship between two black maids in 1960s Mississippi.

Written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor, the film is an embarrassment of acting riches, anchored by tour-de-force performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.

Oscar nominations will be forthcoming.

Every role is perfectly cast including Sissy Spacek in scene-stealing form as an outspoken southern matriarch with a faltering memory, who delights in her racist daughter’s humiliation.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more superb acting ensemble.

The Help marries strong and often wickedly funny performances with a sharp script and heartfelt emotion, evoking an era of social upheaval and racial tensions.

Nowhere is this more pronounced in Taylor’s film than a tense scene in which black bus passengers flee, having just learned from the driver about a racist killing on the streets.

White passengers appear more concerned with the inconvenience to their journey.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) returns home to Jackson after graduating from university with dreams of becoming a writer.

She is horrified to learn that her family’s beloved maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) has quit and that one of the neighbours, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), is proposing that black workers should have to use separate bathrooms.

“They carry different diseases to us,” asserts Hilly coldly.

Determined to end the discrimination, Skeeter pitches a book to editor Elaine Stein (Mary Steenburgen), detailing the extraordinary lives of the maids, who have spent countless years raising white children.

At first, the maids are reluctant to talk but Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) eventually shares her thoughts as she comes to terms with the recent loss of her only son.

Meanwhile, fiercely outspoken Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), renowned for her chocolate pies, loses her job as Hilly’s maid and finds work instead with social outcast Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain).

As Hilly continues with her crusade for segregation throughout Jackson, Skeeter’s secret novel gathers momentum.

The Help is narrated in soft, lilting tones by Aibileen, whose opening line - “Looking after white babies, that’s what I do” - perfectly encapsulates her invaluable contribution to life in Jackson.

Davis and Spencer lead the cast magnificently, the unerring friendship between their characters providing a hook for every other performance, including Chastain as a lovable ditz and Howard as the society queen bee, who stings anyone that gets in her way.

The script is littered with delicious one-liners (“Love and hate are two horns on the same goat... and you need a goat!”) ebbing and flowing between the various storylines, much like the Pearl River that cuts through the state and washes away so many sins.

Nothing, however, will cleanse the memory of those turbulent times.

As the characters realise, to move forward, you invariably have to look back.

Rating: 8/10

The Help (12A, 146 mins) Drama. Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Mike Vogel, Mary Steenburgen, Cicely Tyson.

Director: Tate Taylor.

Released: October 26 (UK & Ireland)

Latest Stories

Yesterday, 18:02
The chair appears to move of its own accord - or perhaps there is a ghostly explanation?

The spooky goings on apparently took place just hours after a psychic medium took to the stage in Romford. Coincidence? Almost certainly...

Read more
Yesterday, 14:28
People enjoy the Royal Victoria beach as temperatures reaches 28C in London.

This weekend saw London’s biggest manmade beach open at the Royal Victoria Dock in Canning Town.

Read more
Yesterday, 13:50
Nightcapp was born when Graham's friends got fed up with him waking them up late at night for recommendations for bars [Image courtesy of Nightcapp]

It’s surprising how much it happens in this global city: last orders comes before you’re ready for it, and you’re left with the choice of finding a 24-hour off-license or getting the nightbus whilst disconcertingly sober.

Read more

Top Stories

Promotions

Renault-Zoe

The Renault ZOE follows on from the introduction of the electric Fluence ZE and Twizy, but unlike the former, the Zoe was designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle.

When no simple way to find Real Ale was at hand, 4 Ale enthusiasts got together to allow anyone with a smart phone to find Real Ale no matter where they happened to be, this was the birth of the Perfect Pint app.

London24 have partnered up with The Week magazine to offer you a complimentary issue – delivered free to your door.

Quizzes

The prize is glory (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

It used to be Manhattan that was famous for its majestic skyline, but now our fair city is catching up. Do you know your Shard from your Heron Tower?

Read more
Test your London musical knowledge with our album quiz (Images via Getty)

Does your music knowledge stretch from The Rolling Stones to Rudimental, Spandau Ballet to Siouxsie and the Banshees? If so then test it out with our London bands quiz:

Read more
How much do you really know about QPR legends like Les Ferdinand? Picture: Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport

Test your knowledge of QPR’s greatest players with our fantastic legends quiz.

Read more