The Help

The casual racism and onerous working conditions experienced by black housemaids in early 1960s Mississippi are the subject of The Help, an impeccably liberal and sometimes very funny drama adapted from a novel by Kathryn Stockett. Recent graduate and wannabe journalist Skeeter Phelan, who sticks out sore-thumb-like amongst her terribly conventional and well-to-do contemporaries, senses the opportunity for an interesting story when she starts to observe the offhand callousness and absurd humiliations that these so-called respectable women subject their employees (or “Help”) to. One of her erstwhile friends is even trying to get a government bill passed that will forbid black servants from using the inside lavatory. Skeeter conceives a project to write a book from the maids’ point of view and after initial resistance finds some willing collaborators who are capable of considerably greater articulacy when met with a sympathetic ear than they ever get a chance of demonstrating in their working lives. Many choice anecdotes are told and played out, with the privileged white women of property variously revealed as venal, scheming, self-righteous, vacuous and even, in a couple of cases, humane and compassionate. The film probably goes on a little too long, but there are some richly earned pay-offs along the way, and the acting is uniformly excellent, with Bryce Dallas Howard standing out as the beyond-snobbish ringleader of the establishment womenfolk and Sissy Spacek stealing every scene she’s in as her screw-loose mother, alongside a much more grounded and subtle performance by Viola Davis as the embittered but never thoughtlessly vengeful maid Aibileen. This is, one or two moments of offscreen violence and a rather unconventional recipe for chocolate pie apart, a perfect Sunday afternoon movie and will probably do great business on DVD.


One response to “The Help

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