Telling it like it is

This is my review of The Help [DVD].

"The Help" on which the film is based is a page-turner with its skilful coverage of human resilience and the sowing of the seeds of rebellion as prejudice begins to crack in 1960s Mississippi, told through the viewpoint of two black maids, Aibileen and Minnie, and Skeeter, an idealistic but naive young white woman with ambitions to become a writer.

In the film, a strong cast of actors bring to life the key characters in the book. Aibileen is the narrator, compassionate and shrewd beneath her subservient air, until writing about her experiences as a general dogsbody and nanny for a succession of white children finally releases her into a sense of freedom. Then there is Minnie, a brilliant cook, but unable to hold down a job because of her feisty talk – yet she allows herself to be beaten by her drunken husband. The villain of the piece is the ghastly, control-freak Hilly, who rules her simpering white "friends" with a rod of iron, with the power to destroy the livelihoods of black servants (not merely her own!) who displease her.

The film version of "The Help" is true to the essentials of the original in that it is a chastening reminder of the casual prejudice of the American South as recently as the 1960s, and is often very moving, yet the poignancy is leavened with a good deal of humour. In view of the complexity of the book's plot, it has been necessary to leave out or compress many details – thankfully not the scene of Minnie trying to hoover the dust off a huge stuffed grizzly bear in an old colonial house. These omissions tend to be disappointing if you have read the book before seeing the film. In particular, I would have liked more of the very moving tales which the maids have to tell.

The film finds time to show not just the main theme of the humiliation and unjust treatment of black Americans but also the discrimination against young white women, who are expected to have no ambition above hooking a man. Skeeter is hired by the local newspaper, but only to write a column on cleaning!

I found some of the black maids' dialogues hard to follow, which is a pity as in the book they are often very funny and full of insight.

Perhaps the film's ending is a touch too sentimental and neatly "sown up", some of the subtle depth of the original has been lost, but overall it is worth seeing.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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