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 so he neglects his boozy wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and is absent for many of Louis' brushes with the law as the defiant son pursues his dream of equality against the backdrop of the landmark civil rights events that shaped modern America.

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 Alist 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.