Hyde Park On Hudson is the “other” movie about an American president in theaters currently. While Lincoln has been portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis as a great figure of steadfast determination and political fortitude; Bill Murray’s turn as Franklin Delano Roosevelt upends the visage of the oft portrayed sweet wheelchair bound man and instead shows him as seen through the eyes of his 5th cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) turned mistress in this oddly uncomfortable period piece from writer Richard Nelson.
When Daisy first receives a call from FDR’s mother to keep the bored president company, she relishes the opportunity to break free from the monotony of her quiet country life and dive into the world of vacation politicking. A friendship between Daisy and FDR soon blossoms into an awkward romance. The story really advances in a “Downton Abbey-like” fashion when the King and Queen of England Bertie (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) arrive for a vacation to convince FDR to involve the U.S. in the pending World War. A quietly intriguing tale unfolds through wittily whimsical dialogue of backdoor politics, secret romances, and upstairs/downstairs disparities.
While a lot of recognition should go to both Bill Murray for his unsettling depiction of FDR and Laura Linney for her charming wallflower; both were portrayed with far less humanity than those involved in the “B” storyline following the King and Queen of England. The chemistry between the actors offered a tremendous amount of comic relief and endearing conflict. The weight of the world’s on the shoulders of both as they try to convince FDR to enter the U.S. in World War II, and instead of smoky war rooms Bertie must persuade FDR over a boozy and bawdy conversation in the wee hours of the morning. Samuel West brings to life the King with his stuttering confessions of uncertainty that in some ways acts as a pseudo-sequel to The King’s Speech. Of special note is the offbeat snarky-ness of Olivia William’s Eleanor Roosevelt. Her behind the scenes trickery is the stuff of legend and Williams really brings it to life with surprise hot dog picnics and off-handed comments.
Where the film struggled for some was its slow pace through quiet transitions. At times FDR and Daisy would drive through the country for several minutes, with little or no story progression occurring. One particular scene had Daisy strolling in the dark though the forest “thinking.” It’s a tactic that can be used well to break up tension and bridge dense scenes, but must be used sparingly. To be blunt, the film is a little too quiet, and this is compounded by the “authentic” lack of lighting (which actually made the scenes difficult to see); combined, these decisions helped to make Hyde Park a little boring. Nearly all of the tension is thinly layered and doesn’t receive much time to reach a boiling point. Still, the movie does achieve its perceived goal of showing the “other side” of politics and perhaps setting Murray up for another Oscar nomination. I’m not certain it’s warranted in this case because I never felt FDR was “human,” but perhaps this was his personal goal with the character.
Hyde Park on Hudson disturbed me just enough to recommend that potential buyers watch something else. If your particular fancy is political films the movie might have what you’re looking for. American fans of British cinema can delight in glittering performances from West and Colman, as well as receive a bit of a skewed history lesson from the point of view of a mistress. However, if you haven’t seen Lincoln yet, I would suggest spending your evening with that film instead. Which is the better president is still open to debate, but which is the better movie most assuredly is not.