Hyde Park On Hudson

Hyde Park On Hudson


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Roger Michell's Hyde Park On Hudson, written by Richard Nelson with an alluring, apple-cheeked Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is the story of the weekend in June 1939 when FDR welcomed the reigning King and Queen of England during their first visit to America. The invitation was to discuss U.S. support for Britain, as Europe was facing imminent war with Germany. Twelve weeks before the outbreak of WWII, world history was made by endearing the monarch to a depression-rattled American public, by feeding him a hot dog.

Hyde Park on Hudson is the name of FDR's country estate in upstate New York, where he was born and where the meeting took place.

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In this costume drama, the stuttering King George VI (Samuel West), "dear Bertie," recently brought back into public awareness by Colin Firth's Oscar winning portrayal in The King's Speech (2010), and the polio afflicted president, who successfully avoided being photographed in public in his wheelchair, discuss remedies for self-pity and trouble with their women.

Is this "humanising the political," as Elizabeth Marvel, who plays FDR's secretary Missy in the movie, says? Or is this approach glazing over any possible historical relevance for today, by pretending that we all suffer somehow, somewhere, president or pauper, which leads precisely nowhere?

The anxieties in preparation for and during the royal visit are only one half of the hot dog picnic tale, the bun, if you will.

The sausage is the story of cousin Daisy, played with bold hesitations by Laura Linney. She delves full-sail ahead into dowdiness, with unsightly white lace-up shoes and unflattering hats, to give hope to all women who are supremely uncomfortable with their bodies, that they too might become the mistress of a powerful man, if they are willing to share. Daisy, who narrates the film in voice over, is based on FDR's fifth cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley's diaries and letters from and to the president, which were discovered after her death at age 100.

Is this all fascinating historical gossip, dressed up in period costume? Are Bill Murray's fabulous presidential brogues what is worth remembering most, or are some of the statements about gender still valid commentary?

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, played beautifully by Olivia Williams against stereotype, as a woman who cannot be bothered with all that unproductive nonsense around her, tactfully ignores being called a "she-man" and the snickering about the Native American performers she hired for the picnic.

The royals (with Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth) remain cartoonish and constipated.

Roosevelt flirts by means of stamps of the highest waterfall in the world and stamps of Hitler. Murray is splendid delivering jokes at dinner for the king about someone's first trip to America, and meeting Joe Kennedy, JP Morgan, and Fred Astaire. "Thank God, you met Mr. Astaire, or what would your impression be of the rest of us?"

Dialogue starting with "Why can't politicians just be honest?" makes the whole film, not just the character of Daisy, sound naive and simplifying, while the Steuben Club plays on in the park of the estate and everything becomes big, lush and conventional.

It is hard to forget the sleaziness in FDR's special car, in the middle of a sunny field, listening to Moonlight Serenade.

Hyde Park On Hudson is at its best when it examines unease. It is also a film set in a time when the world was on fire.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2012
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The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Suckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.
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Director: Roger Michell

Writer: Richard Nelson

Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Blake Ritson, Samuel West, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron.

Year: 2012

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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