The Help review

The tensions of the segregated South have been explored more darkly and deftly in better tomes and films. But Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller was embraced by millions charmed by the female dynamics at work amid the Jim Crow laws.

This deft addressing of difficult subjects was ripe for a movie – and top marks to Disney for lining up a talented cast to play the inhabitants of 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. In their hands, what could be mushy becomes genuinely stirring.

Emma Stone leads as Skeeter, whose journalistic ambitions and anger over the racism she witnesses prompt her to seek out black maids to tell their stories.

Stoic Aibileen (Viola Davis) spills first, then feisty Minny (Octavia Spencer) until a whole town of ‘help’ are bearing witness to the daily cruelty they face. Could this group of oven-stooped women become revolution in its own right? Yes, ma’am.

Evocatively directed by Southern-bred Tate Taylor, The Help is Cool-Whip light, sweet as pie in places and as flimsy as one of Miss Aibileen’s meringues. But what you’ll want second helpings of is Spencer’s sassy comic timing, Davis’ humility, Stone’s innate likeability, Bryce Dallas Howard’s queenbee bitchery, Jessica Chastain’s wounded flooziness and Allison Janney’s brilliant brand of crazy.

Make no mistake, this is ladies’ night, with top role models, spot-on performances and a palpable sense of women being able to change the world in a time when not only ethnic minorities struggled to be heard. No mean feat, and no doubt the girl-power ticket to Oscar nods.

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