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This film was based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel.  Set in Mississippi in the early 1960s, it tells the story of an idealistic young woman nicknamed Skeeter, who decides to interview the African-American maids who work for the white families in her neighbourhood, and find out what life is like for the maids.  She plans to write a book based on the maids’ stories, but this risky venture places her at odds with her family and friends.

I loved the book, and often find that films based on books can be a disappointment.  However, in this case, I thought the film was also wonderful, with beautiful performances all round.  Emma Stone played Skeeter, and while I did not initially think that she was the right fit for the part, she was excellent.  Viola Davis (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) played Aibileen beautifully – I cried over her character’s losses and heartbreaks.  Octavia Spencer won the Oscar for her performance as Minny, and it was well deserved – she managed to combine just the right amount of sass and vulnerability (and her revenge on her bigoted and hateful former employee Hilly was both hilarious and shocking!)  Jessica Chastain played Celia Foote, Minny’s new employer, a sweet and insecure young woman, who is rejected by Hilly and her band of followers, because Celia is married to Hilly’s ex-boyfriend (and also because Celia is sexy and pretty).  Celia and Aibileen were in fact my two favourite characters, both in the book and the film.

Even knowing about the segregation laws, and the discrimination that people faced, it is still squirm inducing to see it played out on screen.  The hypocrisy of Hilly was breath-taking – she was happy to make herself look good by raising money for starving African children, but heaven forbid that her black maid should be allowed to use the family bathroom.  It’s okay for Minny to raise Hilly’s child and cook the family’s food, but she should not be allowed to eat in the same room as them?  Bryce Dallas Howard played Hilly, and should be given credit for her excellent portrayal of such a hateful and ignorant character.  Allison Janney was also wonderful – but when isn’t she?! – as Skeeter’s sick mother, and Sissy Spacek shone as Hilly’s mother, who was a much nicer character than her daughter.

The characters are all fully fleshed out, and there are moments of laughter, sadness, triumph and despair throughout the film.  I cried at a number of scenes, but there are plenty of ironic laughs to be had as well.  I recommend both the film and the book very highly.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Tate Taylor

Producers: Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouel, Nate Berkus, Jennifer Blum, L. Dean Jones Jr., John Norris, Mark Radcliffe, Jeff Skoll, Tate Taylor, Derick Washington, Michael Barnathan, Chris Colombus, Brunson Green, Sonya Lunsford

Writers: Kathryn Stockett (novel), Tate Taylor

Main cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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