Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA rated: R for brief sexuality (I'd rate it PG-13)
Length: 94 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson
Director: Roger Michell
Screenplay: Richard Nelson
Review published January 19, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson 2012Director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill) films this Richard Nelson (Ethan Frome) adaptation of his own 2009 radio play that aired on BBC radio regarding one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's affairs with his distant cousin, Daisy (a family nickname given to Margaret Suckley, whose correspondences with FDR and personal diaries, found posthumously, were used as the basis for the play). The consummation of their relationship, at least as depicted in the film, comes not long before a visit to Roosevelt's family home in Hyde Park in upstate New York by the King and Queen of England, George VI (aka 'Bertie') and Elizabeth (Colman, Hot Fuzz), in June of 1939. The royals, the first to ever visit the United States, are hoping to request assistance from the Americans as war against the threatening Germans just prior to the onslaught of what would become World War II.

Much of the drama is speculative, as even our narrator, Daisy (Linney, The Nanny Diaries), was not privy to most of the going on inside the house during the stay of the Royals. In fact, the romance between Daisy and Franklin (Murray, Get Smart) seems to be something that is barely even dealt with once George (West, Van Helsing) and Elizabeth arrive, and one wonders what one even has to do with the other, and why we should find it of value or interest. Although the interaction between FDR and the British royals is certainly of interest from a historical perspective, most of what we see is fictionalized. Even this seems marginal, as the biggest to-do that did make the papers was the consumption of a hot dog by the British king at their picnic.

The actual romance between Daisy and Roosevelt is without much romantic spark, so it's hard to label it a true love story. Daisy seems mostly interested in paying visits to Franklin because she is incredibly bored taking care of her mother all day, and he takes her about in his fancy car, introduces her to important people, and, on occasion, she gets to dine on fine foods. There doesn't seem much going on of note, other than he's the president, though there is a bit of a conflict later in the film when Daisy discovers she's not so special after all. Franklin has a few other mistresses, while his wife (Williams, Hanna) seems to look the other way (her rumored lesbianism is referred to subtly).

Bill Murray doesn't seem quite right for the role, though he does imbue Roosevelt with enough personality to think he could charm a lonely and sheltered woman with his power, influence, and promise of the world. Though Franklin's demeanor, as channeled by Bill, is gentle, he knows how to manipulate people quite well, and is unscrupulous in doing so, though rarely taking the blame for it. His polio, and his difficult ability to move around, is showcased in full, and Murray does do a commendable job in the physical department, as he uses his arms to hold himself up while making it from table to table, chair to chair, when he grows tired of using his wheelchair. The portrayal of FDR as a physically weak man is probably played up not only to show his vulnerabilities, but also as a commonality he has with King George, who also suffered from a very bad stutter, as recently documented in The King's Speech.

Hyde Park on Hudson seems to exist mostly as an attempt to grab a few Academy Award nominations for voters who enjoy period piece films featuring fancy wardrobe, lush scenery, and actors they like performing well reenacting events of historical significance. None were given, though Murray did garner a Golden Globe nomination (interesting that the category is for comedy/musical, when the film, while light in tone, plays more like a drama much of the time) for his lighthearted and nuanced performance, doing the one thing that Murray rarely does in a film, which is make you forget you're watching Bill Murray. Linney does what she can with a role that virtually necessitates a 'blank slate' spinster personality.

As Roosevelt's affair didn't develop into anything of major significance to his presidency, and as the visit by the King and Queen didn't sway the United States to enter into the war, it is a film that speaks big but says very little. Nevertheless, it's not without enjoyment, and not uninteresting, it's a pretty piece, beautifully scored on the piano by Jeremy Sams (Enduring Love, Persuasion), but viewers would do well to expect little more than a nicely made and acted small-scale bit of escapism about relatively unimportant things that happen to important people.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo