A couple of nights ago I went to see The Help at the cinema. I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett last year and was very keen to see if the film was as good as the book. I really enjoyed the book, frankly it was ‘unputdownable’ to use a none word. The Help is set in Mississippi in the 1960’s and focuses primarily on 3 characters, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Skeeter is a white, upper class young woman who has just returned home having finished college (I think, or maybe Uni??), Aibileen and Minny are the hired help who work long hours undertaking all sorts of chores and basically raising the children of the white people who hire them. Returning home Skeeter finds that the way the maids are treated by her friends and family has become unpalatable (or maybe it had always been unpalatable to her – but I felt as though she was being depicted as having changed by being away from home and seeing things differently on her return) and this reaches a head when one of Skeeter’s friends, Hilly, advocates separate toilets for the help (so as not to spread germs!!!) Skeeter decides to write a book and to interview the maids to tell their stories and expose some of the dreadful behaviour that takes place. Basically I’m not going go go into a critique of the book as I don’t think it’s needed, there is already plenty of information out there and plus this review is simply about whether the book translates well to film or not. I will start by saying however that the book is a work of fiction, as I understand it the maid’s stories are not true and the book is more a story of friendships where you least expect them rather than ground breaking civil rights movements.
So, onto the film. Firstly, the casting and the acting are absolutely superb. Emma Stone stars as Skeeter and manages to deliver a perfectly awkward misfit, Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Hilly and is she mean, Sissy Spacek plays Hilly’s eccentric mother who’s performance at one particular point in the movie is just tremendously funny and Jessica Chastain stars as Celia and she pulls this off brilliantly, she manages to be vulnerable naive and painfully embarrasing, wrapped up in a blond bombshell – and frankly you can’t help but like her. But, without a doubt, the show is stolen by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson. Both of these roles are played with such strength, emotion and dignity. Viola Davis has a really strong closing scene where you finally feel like punching the air on her behalf and Minny manages to bring some humour to the screen which prevents the film from becoming too gritty.
I also thought the sets and the costumes were brilliant – I have no idea to be honest how accurate they are for that period, but they looked good to me not to mention very colourful.
On top of that, and given that you can never really hope to squeeze everything from a book into a film, I think this manages to bring over most of the story very successfully and it is a very good story!
The one thing that I did feel was missing from the film however was the tension that the book delivered. I don’t suppose this is easy to do, especially when you’re trying to bring a certain type of balance. But, I remember reading the book with an ever increasing sense of nervousness about what was going to happen to the three main characters. As you move towards the last few chapters of the book you can barely stand to turn the page for the fear of what might happen and you can practically taste the fear. This isn’t an undertaking to be taken lightly and could have resulted in very dire repercussions for all three women. I don’t think that the fear, the constant need for secrecy or the tension is delivered here (for example the first time that Skeeter visits Abeline – both of them are not just nervous, they’re scared) I think that if you haven’t read the book then this maybe won’t be a problem but having read the novel first I was very aware of the nervous tension created as you get caught up in events and so felt the lack here. I also felt, to an extent that the film had an almost ‘Disney’ feel to it or a certain sweetness. I don’t know whether this is a bad thing necessarily but just that to a certain extent it felt a bit misplaced somehow.
All that being said I thought this was a good film that balances some very difficult, and emotional topics and delivers them in an entertaining, funny and heartwarming way.
Do I think the film is as good as the book? No. But, would I watch it again? Yes.
So 2010 was an excellent year for books. I’ve had a look through to see if I can pick out my favourites – there were such a lot of good ones though and unfortunately as I lost my book list for most of the year I can’t remember all of them!!
Picking a top ten out of so many books isn’t easy but I’ve had a go anyway (in no particular order):
The Girl who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson (a simply excellent series but the middle book was my favourite)
The Book of Lost Things , John Connolly
The Dead Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
The Help, Kathryn Stockett (unputdownable)
Fire, Kristin Cashore
Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare
One Day, David Nicholls
Crescendo, Becca Fitzpatrick
Firebrand, Gillian Philip
That’s it for 2010 – not easy making up that list with so many to choose from but looking back was fun and out of all the books I’ve read I guess I would be more than happy to reread the above named and would definitely recommend them to other people.