the picture entirely. Skilfully adapted from the Kathryn Stockett bestseller of the same name, The Help is set in 1963 – a touchstone year in the evolution of US civil rights.
In the all-too-typical southern town of Jackson, Mississippi, we meet the three women who will go on to take a stand against the racism rife in their close-knit community.
The quietly-spoken Aibileen ( Viola Davis) has been a maid since her early teenage years. Her salary has never broken the dollar-per-hour barrier.
The loud and proud Minny ( Octavia Spencer) is Aibileen’s best friend. She is also a ‘‘ lifer’’ maid, and is widely renowned for her skills in the kitchen.
Then there is Skeeter ( Emma Stone), a young white journalism graduate who has recently returned to her hometown of Jackson to get a writing career going.
Awakened to the nightmarish treatment of black domestic workers by the terrible behaviour of a former school friend ( Bryce Dallas Howard), Skeeter decides to write a book that exposes the hypocrisy of her peers ( and in one particular case, her own family) once and for all.
To do so means burning her bridges in Jackson forever. But Aibileen and Minny have much more to lose. Skeeter only gained the backing of a publisher by promising a collection of stories told from their point of view.
So each time she secretly gathers more material, Skeeter is placing the lives and livelihoods of the maids of Jackson in great danger.
Though The Help sometimes gets close to becoming an uppity pantomime, the film always corrects itself at such moments, thanks to an unfailing moral compass. And also – rather surprisingly – some jolts of comic relief.
The Help has been designed to forge a connection with the viewer on a purely emotional level. This it does with a sensitivity that guarantees both its heart and head remain in the right place at all times.
THIS brilliant Irish production is a shifty, cunning and gloriously offkilter affair.
First-time writer-director John Michael McDonagh cleverly steals from several tired genres including, but not limited to, the buddy comedy, the action thriller and the lastgood-cop-in-a-bad-town drama and passes off the lot as something new. It isn’t, of course. But The Guard is so compelling and entertaining that you just could not care less about how it gets the job done.
Brendan Gleeson has the starring role of Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a selfconfessed maverick policeman working a back-blocks beat in rural Ireland. This is a man who has been left to his own devices for too long to do anything by the book.
A stunning opening scene staged on a lonely country road – the details of which cannot be revealed here – encapsulates Boyle’s unorthodox reading of the letter of the law.
It does take a while to get a handle on the true nature of Boyle’s character, largely because of the random manner McDonagh has drizzled need-to-know information over his screenplay.
In weaker hands, this would be an open invitation to draw reactions of impatience and worse from an audience. Not so with McDonagh’s strong and supremely confident work here.
Away from Boyle, the story has a happy knack of splintering off in unpredictable directions.
The sudden arrival of a hardline FBI agent ( Don Cheadle) on Boyle’s home turf is one such tangent worth following.
Another, concerning a nasty trio of international drug smugglers ( led by RocknRolla ’ s Mark Strong), supplies the movie with a high complement of great punchlines and shocking developments.
TELLING TIMES: Emma Stone with Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis; and with Allison Janney ( inset).