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Review: Hyde Park on Hudson – Bill Murray’s ‘New Deal’

Posted by on December 14, 2012 – 12:05 am

Hyde Park on Hudson© 2012 Focus Features
2012 has been a banner year at the movies for two of U.S. history’s most popular presidents, with both Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt being depicted in their own respective fantasy films of re-envisioned history (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and FDR: American Badass); and they have both had more accurate film accounts this year as well, with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and now Hyde Park on Hudson, which captures FDR’s pre-World War II encounter with the King & Queen of England.

Hyde Park in this film refers to the Roosevelt home in the Hudson Valley of New York state where, as the 32nd President of the United States, FDR spent a great deal of time guiding the country through the Great Depression and World War II; although this movie concentrates mostly on a few days in 1939 when the British monarchs made an historic visit to the U.S. in search of assistance with the growing European conflicts.

Some history buffs may be disappointed with Hyde Park on Hudson in that there are many important historical occurrences, which take place during the era in which the film is set, that are ignored or barely mentioned. This story focuses more on FDR’s sexual affairs than his governing affairs and is fairly light fare for a film set in such troublesome times.

Bill Murray, who is best known for his comedic roles and as a Saturday Night Live alumni, takes another stab at serious dramatic acting by playing FDR; and he has succeeded in defying all my expectations regarding his ability to pull off this role. Murray usually plays, well, Bill Murray in most of his films, even in his more somber roles, but as FDR he completely loses himself in the part and I almost immediately forgot that I was watching one of the most successful comedians of the past 35 years.

Hyde Park on Hudson© 2012 Focus Features
Hyde Park on Hudson begins with Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), or “Daisy” as FDR calls her, getting a phone call from FDR’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) requesting her presence at the Hyde Park estate. Daisy is a fifth cousin to the President and he is in need of some familial interaction to help reduce the stress he is under and she is the only local person available.

Daisy soon becomes a regular guest at Hyde Park and her relationship with FDR turns from a friendly family affair into a strangely intimate one, especially given the President’s polio affliction that affected the use of his legs – oh, and don’t forget they’re cousins.

The somewhat incestuous affair is in full swing as the visit from the British Royals begins and with the President’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) back in town for the big event, Daisy begins to find herself cast aside as she discovers that she is not FDR’s only infidelity.

While I would have enjoyed a little more historical detail regarding the politics building up to the United States’ involvement in WWII, that’s just not what this picture is about. I still enjoyed learning more about FDR, although his secretive and manipulative ways as portrayed in this film do not really cast him in a very good light. But Murray’s portrayal of this man attempting to hide his ailments while dealing with the immense stresses of his office, a domineering mother and wife who has a secret life of her own, is fascinating.

Hyde Park on Hudson© 2012 Focus Features
Another part of this film that I found fun & interesting was the way in which Eleanor tries to humiliate the King (Samuel West ) and Queen (Olivia Colman) during their visit. They and their country are desperate for assistance from the United States and the First Lady seems to take great pleasure in watching them squirm. From wallpaper depicting the Brits as monkeys to refusing to curtsy and forcing them to eat hot dogs, King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, gracefully endure Eleanor Roosevelt’s slights and the indignities of being in America for the first time.

Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), Hyde Park on Hudson is based on the BBC radio play of the same title, which was written by playwright Richard Nelson. This film doesn’t carry anywhere near the same clout as Lincoln, but it is a captivating slice of Americana nonetheless and Murray’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. Grade: 7/10

Learn More: Will Swift is the author of The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, The King and Queen of England, and the Friendship that Changed History. You can learn more about FDR, Eleanor and the Royals at Swift’s website.