Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
A good idea gone wrong, Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson takes the intriguing prospect of Bill Murray as FDR and saps it of nearly all possible joy. By positing the four-term President as a womanizer of epic proportions, the film portends to explore an unusual side of a legendary figure, but suffers from a lack of conviction. Further muddled by an odd mix of sweeping period piece shots and low handheld camerawork, Richard Nelson’s radio play transitions poorly to the big screen, incorrectly assuming that its scandalous subject matter will more than suffice.
Told from the perspective of FDR’s distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), the story takes place in 1939, largely at the titular upstate New York home where FDR grew up and his mother still resides. The Great Depression remains in full swing and Pearl Harbor has yet to be bombed, but while war rages in Europe, the United States remains isolationist. The weight of a nation on his shoulders, FDR seeks support from Daisy, with whom he’s previously had little contact. The two then become fast friends and, almost disturbingly quickly, make a different sort of contact that drastically changes the film’s nature, and not for the better.
The FDR of popular memory is a saintly inspirational leader, and to call him out for sleeping around takes guts, precisely what Michell and Nelson do not possess. Throughout FDR’s and Daisy’s affair, scenes are presented with a vapid disconnect, beginning with a manual encounter in the President’s car, depicted from afar by his unintentionally comedic bobbing head. Keeping their distance from the material as if they might get in trouble, even as additional lovers are revealed, the filmmakers are also unwilling to give viewers much credit. Turning to Daisy’s crippling narration to spell things out, the film goes so far as to not only identify Eleanor (Olivia Williams) when she first walks into a room, but to label her as FDR’s wife. (As if those teeth could belong to anyone else…)
At least Murray is around to keep Hyde Park on Hudson mildly interesting. The funniest man alive brings a politician’s deceptive charm to all of FDR’s dealings, bending words to make people see things his way while dodging all responsibility. The film also picks up somewhat when King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) pay a visit to drum up U.S. war support for Britain. Cutting distinct portraits without trying to one-up their King’s Speech counterparts, West and Colman enliven what’s otherwise a dull historical celebrity-crush romance. Hyde Park on Hudson is, however, a film about FDR, and when scenes involving the King and Queen of England are far more appealing than those of its central revered figure, there’s reason for concern.
Rated R for brief sexuality.
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