As far as Female ensembles go, you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger cast all year. With powerhouse performances across the board, The Help is a poignant story of discrimination and overcoming adversity based on the Bestselling book by Kathryn Stockett.
Set in the early sixties, ‘Skeeter’, an aspiring writer returns home from college to her small Mississippi town determined to find a story big enough to turn the heads of employers in New York and confront hard-hitting issues. Disconcerted by the racism of some of the locals, in particular the vapid Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas-Howard), she decides to interview the black women who work as maids in the houses of the prominent southern families. Though apprehensive to speak out about subjects which, shockingly, were against the law to mention publicly, they begin meeting in secret to expose the inequality occurring behind closed doors.
Emma Stone gives an excellent performance as Skeeter and as well as further proving her comedic skills demonstrated in her star-making role in the wickedly funny Easy A, here she also get to flex her dramatic chops. The real star of the however is Viola Davis as kindly maid Aibileen who cares for and loves the children she looks after better than their real mothers only to be forced to leave them. Her performance is heartbreaking and worthy of a second Oscar nomination (her first being for holding her own opposite Meryl Streep in Doubt- no mean feat!). Bryce Dallas-Howard is also great as the monstrous Hilly who not only begins a campaign for separate toilets for the help but also ostracises the lovable but ditzy Celia (Jessica Chastain) who is longing to fit in with her snobby neighbours.
Bringing some sass and humour to the table is Octavia Spencer as Minnie, a fiery maid and best friend of Aibileen with a definite score to settle. Her comments and interactions with Hilly, her former employer, provide most of the laughs along with a surprising revenge plot. As well as the cast, the southern landscapes and period costumes are beautifully shot and the cultural nuances are carried off well all to the beat of a pleasant soundtrack.
Dealing with serious issues, the film does have its emotional moments and certain scenes will have you fighting back the tears. It is perhaps a tad over-simplistic and the idea that all of the maids look to a white woman as their saviour is perhaps slightly patronising but the film’s heart is in the right place and the quality performances from every member of the cast make this a strong and uplifting drama.