One man’s view of eight presidents

Forrest Whitaker lines up with White House staff to greet its latest occupant.
Forrest Whitaker lines up with White House staff to greet its latest occupant.

The stellar cast and a behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s power centres are the main attractions of ‘The Butler’.

Based on a true story, it follows one man serving under several presidential administrations.

As a boy, Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey Jr) works on the cotton fields with his mother and father. When he is old enough, he leaves in search of a better life and after a chance encounter starts working as a waiter.

Cecil (now played by Forest Whitaker) progresses through the ranks of various establishments until he achieves the position of butler in the White House, where he is proud to serve under several administrations including Presidents Dwight D Eisenhower (Robin Williams), John F Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Richard Nixon (John Cusack) and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman).

Cecil remains politically neutral and clashes with his son Louis (David Oyelowo), who is strongly involved in the fight for civil rights.

Gaines is devoted to his work, neglecting his boozy wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and is absent for many of Louis’s brushes with the law as his son pursues his dream against the backdrop of landmark civil rights events.

Based on a story published in The Washington Post in 2008, ‘The Butler’ is a star-laden historical drama about one man’s insider view of decades of political and social upheaval in the country he adores.

Director Lee Daniels, who was Oscar nominated for his 2009 film ‘Precious’, crams every frame with A-list supporting performances and cameos including a bouffant Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and a fleeting glimpse of Mariah Carey as Cecil’s mother.

At 130 minutes, the film feels bloated and our interest wanes well before Cecil makes his final walk down the hallowed halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

‘The Butler’ (Cert 12, 130 mins, Entertainment In Video, Drama/Romance, also available to buy DVD £23.99/Blu-ray £29.99).

‘The Butler’ stars Forest Whitaker, David Banner, LaJessie Smith, Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Jane Fonda, David Oyelowo, Alan Rickman and Michael Rainey Jr.