The Butler

DRAMA; 2hr 12min

STARRING: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey

Making history: Winfrey and Whitaker

Inspired by White House butler Eugene Allen, Precious director Lee Daniels’s story of how the son of cotton plantation slaves works his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, serving under a parade of presidents between 1957 and 1986, is a rich wedge of civil-rights history. Butler Cecil Gaines (a transfixing Whitaker) endures in the job because, having long since learned the art of protective discretion, he’s the soul of decency and immaculate tact. White House maître d’ Freddy Fallows’s mantra could have been custom-designed for Cecil: “You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve.”


But the times, they are a-changing and changing, and while Cecil is padding deferentially through the corridors of power, his family life with his formidable, resentful, alcoholic wife, Gloria (the equally formidable Winfrey), and pot-stirring son Louis (David Oyelowo) — the other, revolutionary face of the political coin — is a vivid counterpoint. The casting of such shining lights as Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda, meanwhile, speaks loud and proud, with every performance a defining statement. Modern history is a ton to take on and the going can be tough. But the intimate scope sweeps you up after all.