Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 12A
  • Drama
  • 2011

The Help

The Help

Synopsis

In 1960s Mississippi, young white journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) and world-weary black maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) join forces to expose the level of bigotry in their community

About

Crisco, a colourless, unctuously smooth brand of vegetable shortening that's a mainstay in kitchens across the United States, is a true wonder product - as useful for removing eye bags as it is for crisping up fried chicken. So we are told in one scene of The Help, actor-turned-director Tate Taylor's blandly enjoyable adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's Civil Rights-themed bestseller, and there's little reason to doubt this endorsement: the entire film appears to have been made of the stuff.

As lily-white a tale of the black experience as could imaginably be put to screen in the 21st century, Taylor's polished period piece raises something of an if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest question: if the story of the publication of a landmark book, one that changed attitudes to race relations in an especially bigoted corner of the Deep South, never really happened, what does it ultimately signify? If the film inevitably inherits the unearned self-importance of Stockett's novel, however, it remains a hearty and stirring fiction, its over-ironed social and moral landscape lent feeling and texture by a busily stranded narrative and some empathetic performances that elegantly separate the human truths from the screenplay's homilies.

Chief among these is Viola Davis, deservedly a dead cert for Oscar recognition in 2012: as written, the relentlessly stoic, noble Aibileen should be a scarcely penetrable stereotype, yet she becomes bruised flesh and blood through Davis's rich line readings and creased body language.

The rest of the ensemble is a mixed bag, ranging from the wonderful Jessica Chastain, as a guilelessly liberal trophy wife, to the overly panto-ready Bryce Dallas Howard, as the queen bee of the oppressors - with a disappointingly de-amped Emma Stone, as our mostly symbolic protagonist, somewhere in between. If you find your eyes getting annoyingly moist at points of this airbrushed but effective heartwarmer, give the bulk of the credit (or blame) to Davis, and try a little Crisco.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Emma Stone, Viola Davis

In a nutshell

As hard to dislike as it is to truly admire, this artfully manipulative issue movie knows where its strengths lie... and most of them lie in Viola Davis.

by Guy Lodge

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Silver Linings Playbook

    Silver Linings Playbook

    Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in this Oscar-winning romantic dramedy that deals with the implications of a relationship forming in the midst of mental illness

  • Film4 The Wackiest Ship In The Army

    The Wackiest Ship In The Army

    Jack Lemmon stars as a Lieutenant tricked into taking command of a ship full of misfits, tasked with a top secret mission to save hundreds of allied lives

    On Film4: 29 Apr 4:45PM

  • Film4 Silver Linings Playbook

    Silver Linings Playbook on Film4

    Jennifer Lawrence gives an Oscar-winning performance opposite Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell's superior romantic comedy.

  • Film4 The Pact

    The Pact on Film4

    When Annie's sister disappears while organising their mother's funeral in their childhood home, she investigates as an unwelcome presence in the house begins to be felt

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Mike Leigh announces new film, Peterloo

    Mike Leigh's next project will look at Peterloo - the infamous 1819 massacre by government forces at a peaceful pro-democracy rally at St Peter's Field in Manchester, when 700 working people were inju

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Four Film4-backed films selected In Competition at Cannes 2015

    Four Film4-backed films ¿ Todd Haynes¿ Carol, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, Paolo Sorrentino¿s Youth and Justin Kurzel¿s Macbeth ¿ have been invited into official selection at this year¿s Cannes film

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share