The Help (2011)

28 October 2011

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Based on the beloved New York Times bestselling novel, "The Help," is the story of three extraordinary women in the deep South in 1962. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but her mother will not be happy until Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid, Constantine, the woman who raised her, but she has disappeared, and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own. Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

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"It makes you realise that if you believe in something, then stand up for it and fight."

“What if you don't like what I have to say” says lead character Aibileen Clark, a black house keeper in Deep South Mississippi. And like many other times in history, what needs to be said and what needs to be heard, are far from pretty.

Set in Jacksonville Mississippi during the early 1960's, the subject matter seemed a world away from sitting in a cinema in Soho. But more than simply time and distance, the whole idea goes against how we’d like to think people lived in America ‘land-of-the-free home-of-the-great’ just 50 years ago.

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best selling book of the same name, The Help was a powerful film which played on my mind long after I’d left the cinema. Concentrating on the lives of, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer), both house maids who have spent their lives working for wealthy white families. Through these two women we get to see how courage and dignity can change lives forever. Both ladies gave outstanding performances, and I’ll be surprised if they don’t get recognition come awards season.

This isn’t a film about racism; not racism by today’s standards anyway. Terrible atrocities occurred in Mississippi during the time period but were not portrayed in the film. The Ku Klux Klan for example, are mentioned but not dwelled upon. No the underlying realisation of this movie is deeper than that; it takes you back to a time when it was widely accepted that black people were subordinate to white people. They are not taunted, bullied or harassed. They are simply The Help. Born into roles that they cannot escape. Equally the white folk of the era have their own prejudices firmly ingrained into their mentality.

Emma Stone was perfectly cast as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, playing the character we’d all hope to be in the same situation. Bright and compassionate, Skeeter sees more to life then marriage and babies. Fresh out of Ole Miss School, she dreams of a career in journalism and wants to write articles that will change the world. If that sounds naïve today, then it was positively alien in the early sixties. To say she’s respectful of the help is an understatement; she treats the maids as equal. Thanking them when they pour her a drink, and mortified (and mystified) at the suggestion that they shouldn’t be allowed to use the bathrooms inside the house.

Saddled with writing the domestic help column in her local newspaper, Skeeter embarks on a journey that will change lives and communities. Through her written collaborations with Aibileen and Minny, attitudes and relationships are changed forever.

The villain of the film is socialite Miss Hilly Holbrook, Disrespectful, deceitful and down right dislikeable, here is a character that is easy to hate. With butter wouldn’t melt looks, but a heart made of pure stone, Bryce Dallas Howard puts in a superb performance.

The Help is a slice of history that America would most probably like to forget. Yet from such oppression and despair, comes good. Hatred divides a community, but differences can unite it. This is one of those films that you walk away from feeling like you can take on the world- and change it. Or at the very least right a wrong.

Furiously blinking away tears as the end credits rolled, I felt inspired. It makes your realise that if you believe in something, then stand up for it and fight.

I laughed and I cried. I felt sorrow and I felt joy. This film is a must see and a lesson for everyone in equality. A timeless message that is still as relevant today as it always has been.

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