My favourite books are the ones that make me laugh, make me cry and make me think.
I reckon the same rule can be applied to films – which is why The Help, the new film based on Kathryn Stockett’s tale of life in the American Deep South during the 1960s, is an out and out winner.
Stockett’s book, which chronicles the story of a group of black maids who look after the children of white southern families in Mississippi, spent 103 weeks on the bestseller list in the US and in three years has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.
Film director Tate Taylor, Stockett’s best friend at school, spotted its potential and bought the film rights before the book was even published.
The Help is told from the viewpoints of three women. Two of them are maids, Aibileen, a wise and stoical black woman in her 50s who’s brought up 17 children of white women, and her feisty friend Minny, who extracts hilarious revenge on her racist employer. The third is Skeeter, a wealthy young white girl who desperately wants to be a writer. The trio form an unlikely friendship when Aibileen and Minnie agree to help Skeeter write a controversial book about the maids and their lives – a book that shakes the insular community they live in to the core.
It’s a controversial subject, and while some critics have slated the film for “sugar-coating” the civil rights struggle, it’s got heart and it mostly works. Viola Davis, as Aibileen, and newcomer Octavia Spencer, as Minny, have both been mentioned as likely Oscar contenders, as has Emma Stone as the sparky Skeeter. I managed not to cry till the scene where Aibileen is forced to say goodbye to a little girl she has looked after since she was a baby, exhorting her as always to remember she is “smart,” she is “kind” and she is “intelligent.” Then I couldn’t stop.
Despite its flaws, The Help manages to be deeply moving, poignant and funny at the same time. Yes, it simplifies a violent era of modern history, but it’s a powerful, beautifully shot movie – and definitely worth seeing.
The Help, certificate 12A, opens on October 26.
PS: The preview I attended was organised by ShowFilmFirst – so thanks to them.