The Help (M) ★ ★ ★ ½

IN Mississippi in 1963, indolent, small-town, middle-class, white mistresses dominated their coloured household servants under an unwritten set of restrictive rules.

Director Tate Taylor’s occasionally shaky adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel delivers passion, dramatic depth, anger, sorrow, humour, optimism, historical relevance, emotional sensitivity and awareness of the stony paths confronting human endeavour.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) persuades her mother’s help Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minnie (Octavia Spenser), dismissed after being in her employer’s lavatory for other than cleaning purposes, to urge other black helps to tell their stories for anonymous publication.

When one employer dies, her daughter may expect to inherit the help. White women’s houses have segregated toilets, but their black helps rear the children.

Subtly delineating distortions of basic human dignity, “The Help” takes some trouble to keep us from taking its optimism for granted, protecting it from frivolity while inviting us to laugh.

A marvellous supporting cast of women, notably Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Cicely Tyson, deals with issues too important to form a bog-standard chick flick.

Men, mere providers of money and progenitors of children, are unavoidable appendages in a film where the battlefield is domestic power and the combatants are women, as they ever have been.

At Dendy and Greater Union

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