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Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

| December 7, 2012 | 0 Comments

Hyde Park on Hudson might just as well have been titled “What happens at Hyde Park Stays at Hyde Park.”   We’d be glad if it did because, based on this movie, nothing of any real interest really happened there despite the presence of FDR, Eleanor, and The King and Queen of England.  Here we have four of the most fascinating people of the 20th century in the same place at a time when storm clouds of Nazi aggression were about to burst and the screenplay focuses on FDR’s infidelity and the Queen’s concern over a picnic where she will be forced to eat hot dogs.

The movie takes place in the summer of 1939, when Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) was spending some time at his country estate at Hyde Park.  The movie deals with two events that took place that summer.   First was FDR’s intimate relationship with Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley (Laura Linney), his sixth cousin, who would become his mistress.  The details of their relationship take place in long shots and quiet passages of dialogue that seem muted as if they simply don’t have anything to say to one another.  The heat in their attraction comes from their mutual admiration over – get this – his stamp collection.  How he used this as an aphrodisiac to attract women is a question the movie doesn’t really know how to answer, all you can deduce is that intimacy that grows out of admiration over stamps is about as exciting as it sounds.

The other story deals with a visit to Hyde Park by King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman).  No British monarch had ever visited America before.  They are the pillars of England at a moment when Hitler is about to steamroll over much of Europe, and his Majesty has come west to speak with The President about an alliance that would overthrow the Fuehrer.  Yet the movie leaves that important issue around the edges of the movie.  Except for one effective scene between The President and The King, in which they both understand that they have physical ailments that they are trying to hide (one is disabled by polio, and the other has a stuttering problem), the movie has no real interest in their relationship.  It is understood that America came to Britain’s aid and the story of the king and queen is mostly concentrated on their puzzlement with brutish American customs, not just the aforementioned hot dogs, but the picnic and the Native American dancers that will be performing therein.

The story of the king and queen doesn’t work because it doesn’t move beyond their initial shock over American customs.  The story of FDR’s infidelity doesn’t work because we simply don’t care.  Part of the problem is Daisy herself.  She is our point of view in the film but she’s such a blank slate that we have no foothold in her story.  Laura Linney is a fine actress but she stands at a distance from FDR, admiring him but hardly saying a word except in narration.  That narration, by the way, is so lazy, quiet and tired that it comes off like a particularly dull audio book.  Roosevelt’s relationship with Eleanor is nearly non-existence.  It is known that after The President’s relationship with is secretary two decades earlier, she had chosen to be his wife in name only, but where is the tension between them.  Olivia Williams occupies the role of Eleanor not as a supporting character but almost as a fixture of the set.

To be fair, the performance by Bill Murray isn’t bad.  He is an unusual choice for this role and it is good to see him take such a risk, but you never feel that you’re in the presence of the 32nd President.  Murray is a good actor and he captures some of FDR’s wit but he doesn’t have the towering presence that made him such an American icon.  This is a tiny movie, a meager effort that looks great but doesn’t really go anywhere.  You don’t learn anything and there is no sense that you are getting a behind-the-curtain look at anything but really pretty pictures.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Drama