Whether you’re a red or blue supporter you’ve got to admit that Helen Clark has done pretty darn well for herself. As leader of the United Nations Development programme, a year in the life of Aunty Helen promised to be interesting and I suppose I went into this film with heightened expectations. Alas, it was always a bit doomed from the start in that the main focus of the film is on Helen’s bid for the role of Secretary General which was widely covered in the news and the outcome still fresh in the minds of the audience. Still we were hopeful.

As you probably know, Helen Clark was not successful in her efforts and this film does nothing to hide the disappointment not only of Clark herself but also the group campaigning for a female to be elected to the role. It certainly exposes the (easily corrupted) system of how the SG is elected and shines a light on gender inequality in the UN but rather than provide some sort of optimism for a better future where we are all equal, this documentary simply reminds you of how marginalised women are and leaves you feeling mildly depressed.

Another let down is the lack of insight into Helen as a person. The title of the film implies a certain closeness to the subject and I had expected to see a lot more of who Helen is behind closed doors. The snatches of her personal life that we do get are brief but heart warming and the film needs more of them. I vote for more of her adorable 94 year old father who Helen cooks huge batches of food for when she has a stint at home so that he has year round meals in the deep freeze. We get a tiny window into Helen’s marriage with a couple of tidbits from her hubby Peter Davis but certainly nothing juicy.

A lot of time is spent with the leaders of the group campaigning for the next Secretary General to be female and even though I absolutely back what they were doing I found it really hard to relate to them. They seemed more focused on the goal than the actual candidates which felt a bit odd. They back all the women in the running equally instead of putting their efforts behind the best female candidate in their opinion and I can see how they would have rubbed the establishment up the wrong way. I suppose that’s the whole point, but still I found them to be a bit grating.

Personally I think this film could have done better if it had focused less on the politics and more on the person because she truly is a remarkable New Zealander. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that there are films like this one being made so that it reminds us just how much we still need to change but I think I’m a sucker for a happy ending and expected that somehow I’d be left with a message of hope.


Instead I walked out of the cinema feeling sad. Sad for women all around the world who are banging their heads against that ruddy glass ceiling. I mean, if someone as extraordinary as Helen Clark who has forgone having children in favour of pursuing a career, has risen to leader of our country and nabbed one of the most esteemed roles in the UN yet still struggles with gender prejudice then what hope is there for the rest of us? According to My year with Helen, not much.

Watch the trailer below