Tuesday, 11 December 2018

White House meets Downton Abbey

Film: The Butler

Film: The Butler

Certificate: (12A)

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack

IT has been said that the director of this movie, Lee Daniels, is on a mission, and a personal one at that. He is 54, and remembers having to drink from a “coloured” fountain when he was a kid, so it’s hardly surprising he may want to flex his considerable muscles in Hollywood to make a point about race relations. Whether he succeeds, or whether this film is just a little too sentimental for a British public, remains to be seen.

Forest Whitaker plays White House butler Cecil Gaines who served eight administrations, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, and in a Downton Abbeyesque way he witnesses some of the momentous world events as an African American right in the middle of the action, but with a bystander viewpoint. His character is loosely based on real-life butler Eugene Allen but some of the more gritty action — Gaines seeing his mother raped by rednecks, and his son joining the Black Panthers, for example — is fiction.

The film has been a massive hit at the US box office, taking $115 million so far, despite some negative publicity. Much of the controversy concerns the divergence from the facts and Vietnam vets groups have criticised the casting of Jane Fonda, AKA Hanoi Jane, as Nancy Reagan. However Barak Obama cried on watching it, and Whitaker, who won an Oscar for his portayal of Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland, is credited with bringing a quiet, calm sensitivity to his role.

Oprah Winfrey has also received critical acclaim as his wife. (The director made her brush up on her acting skills before shooting began).

Critics have complained that this film is a bit worthy and preachy, and that there are a few too many big names. But then again, it’s rare to see a movie about race relations through the eyes of a black character. The Butler opens tonight at the Regal Picturehouse.

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