Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ takes the saying ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ to a whole new level.
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker - ‘The Last King of Scotland’) witnesses the murder of his father and the rape of his mother in a plantation in Georgia. Cecil is then taken from the cotton fields into the house of the plantation owner (Vanessa Redgrave - ‘Howard’s End’) where he learns to serve.
When Cecil gets older he leaves the plantation in search of work elsewhere and a chance encounter with a veteran butler paves the way for his journey to Washington D.C. and eventually, the White House, where he would spend 34 years serving eight US Presidents.
The real life Cecil Gaines is a man called Eugene Allen and the vast majority of what happens to Gaines in ‘The Butler’ never happened to Allen.
That’s not to say that the story of Allen isn’t an interesting one but because Daniels’ movie relies so heavenly upon actual events it loses credibility because of its insistence on employing so much fiction.
Whitaker is average as Cecil. A life spent serving white upper and middle class Americans leaves Cecil awfully subservient and apologetic for the actions of black oppressed Americans during the Civil Rights movement. This makes for interesting tete-a-tetes between Cecil and his eldest son, Louis, (David Oyelowo - Red Tails), who despite his father’s wishes, becomes very much involved in the Civil Rights movement..
Oyelowo is a fine actor but casting him in a role where he has to play the same character aged 18 and 60 is utterly ridiculous and just plain stupid.
In real life, Eugene Allen and his wife Helen only ever had one son but in Daniels’ film, Cecil and wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey - ‘The Colour Purple’) have two sons, Louis and Charlie.
As you’d imagine with this embellishment, a lot of what happens to Cecil in relation to his sons never actually happened Eugene Allen.
That aside, the film’s domineering artistic license is not without merit.
Gloria Gaines is played brilliantly by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is not to everyone’s taste and it’s quite easy to see why so many regard her as major pain in the ass but she’s the best thing about ‘The Butler’ by a country mile.
Gloria fights alcoholism and when husband Cecil appears to be spending and devoting more time to the people at the White House than his own family, she has an affair with next door neighbour Howard (Terence Howard - ‘Prisoners’).
Gloria is without question the film’s most interesting character and should Academy Awards come a calling it would be no surprise for Ms. Winfrey emerge victorious as Best Supporting Actress come February.
Daniels, who incidentally is only the second ever black man to be nominated for his 2009 movie ‘Precious’, is clearly trying to emulate Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Forrest Gump’ and whilst the first half of the film holds its own it gets all confused about half way through.
Cecil is obviously the film’s protagonist but as the film moved on I found him annoying, ignorant and a little stupid.
‘The Butler’ is currently showing at the Brunswick Moviebowl; for full cinema listings visit www.brunswickmoviebowl.com or telephone 02871 371 999.