For the News-Democrat
What It's About
Not exactly a history lesson of "Lincoln" proportions, "Hyde Park on Hudson" weaves together two stories -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt's roving hands and eyes, and his charm at making political allies during a 1939 summer holiday at his mother's family mansion in upstate New York. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth become the first rulers of Great Britain to visit America, hoping to persuade President Roosevelt to join forces against Adolph Hitler and his evil empire.
Bill Murray is an unlikely but charming Roosevelt in a sea of smart dames. Laura Linney, fine at feisty women's roles ("You Can Count on Me" and "The Savages"), plays Margate "Daisy" Suckley, a mousy distant cousin of the president. Her affair with FDR that summer was revealed after she died at age 100 in 1991. Samuel West and Olivia Colman are King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and while they're good performers, they have the disadvantage of portraying the royal couple on the heels of "The King's Speech." Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter were so indelible that this duo are the less impressive understudies.
The period piece is properly in place, and a glimpse into how our leader performed his duties has fascinating elements.
What Doesn't Work
But its emphasis on FDR's trysts puts a revered president in a sleazier light in the way the relationships are presented. Spoiler Alert: We've become accustomed to our presidents' infidelities, but starting the film with a carefree jaunty car ride that gives way to FDR getting his way with Daisy puts a new spin on hail to the chief. The romance doesn't blossom in a traditional way -- and with Eleanor busy on the grounds, it just has an "ick" factor. Linney's flat narration and her character's proclivity to smoke cigarettes while she pondered further dulls the story.
The film's characters spend a great deal of time bickering, and the tedious spotlight on hot dogs -- and forcing Daisy to slather one grilled one with mustard for the royal guest -- fails to achieve the humorous light touch the film wanted to have.
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West, Olivia Colman
Rated: R for brief sexuality