The Help contains a large ensemble cast, featuring Emma Stone as Skeeter who sees beyond the prejudices of her town in sixties, Mississippi, America in order to create a book giving voice to ‘the help’, or the persecuted, black servants of America. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer do a remarkable job as Aibileen and Minny, the downtrodden and voiceless black servants. They give the film a genuine warmth, retaining their wit and strength despite the social abuse they’re forced to endure.
Bryce Dallas Howard is superb as Hilly, the mistress of the house, who is to civil rights what Cruella de Vil was to dalmatians. Maybe there is something a little bit pantomime villain about the way Hilly is presented, but it does a good job in providing the appropriate antagonism for Aibileen and Minny’s desire to co-operate with Skeeter’s project. Also among the cast is Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother, as ever brilliant even if she seems to be getting slightly typecast in the slightly mad mother role.
At nearly two hours and a half, you feel a lot wouldn’t have been lost with a bit of an edit but at the same time it didn’t seem to particularly drag on as the characters are constantly engaging.
In a sense, The Help feels feminist as much as it’s about the civil right movement. While it doesn’t quite tackle the political issues with the vigor expected, it does provide characters with conviction. The film isn’t nearly as liberally preachy as some may suggest. It’s not always an easy watch but it’s at other times funny, entertaining and heartwarming. It’s not quite the civil right tour-de-force some may expect, but it’s nevertheless moving and a story worth telling.
The Help is out on 26th October in the UK. Running time: 146 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
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Review by David Rank