HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Limits of Respect
Massaging FDR Pays Modest Dividends
If only we could see Bill Murray’s FDR hanging out with Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln, then there might be…well, another mediocre life-slice movie about dead presidents. Like Day Lewis, Murray builds his character from the ground up, making his mortal incarnation of a historical political figure thoroughly convincing.
Playing FDR’s romantically attracted sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, Laura Linney knows just how to harmonize with Murray’s performance, undercutting it when the scene demands. From an acting standpoint, “Hyde Park on Hudson” and “Lincoln” each provide textbook examples of incredibly polished dramatic work from some of the finest actors around. Still, if Steven Spielberg’s piece of revisionist history presents a brief essay, “Hyde Park on Hudson” is but a tastefully composed snapshot.
Where “Hyde Park on Hudson” falls short is in the script department. Richard Nelson’s screenplay version of his own stage play doesn’t know where or how to expand to fit the cinema screen. The impetus for the story comes from Daisy’s letters and diaries retrieved after her death. Nelson doesn’t make much of a splash with his debut feature script. The under-inflated narrative is confined to a few days, when King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Williams) visit FDR at his upstate New York compound, which he shares with his domineering mother Sara Ann (Elizabeth Wilson) and emotionally remote wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams).
Responsive movie audiences will remember King “Bertie” from Colin Firth’s characterization in Tom Hooper’s 2010 film “The King’s Speech.” However on-the-nose in might have been, it would have been a welcome touch had Firth reprised the role here since West’s portrayal of the stuttering George goes all but undetected.
Roosevelt’s crippled legs hardly prevent him from playboy behavior with the likes of Daisy, whose parked-car handjob crystalizes the romantic nature of couple’s tenuous relationship. Sadly, one rubout doesn’t provide enough of a hook to hang a movie on.
As with the miscalculated emotional emphasis of “Hitchcock,” the script places too many narrative eggs in a basket of repressed jealousy. Daisy is hardly able to act on her mild mistreatment by a powerful world leader with cavalier concern for her emotional wellbeing.
Director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) knows how to handle milieu and atmosphere. Every composition of period perfection is a sumptuous delight to the eye. You’d never guess that you were looking at an English countryside as opposed to the film’s New York State setting. When FDR takes Daisy on a pastoral escape in his big convertible, mythology and romance connect.
Some of the film’s humor borders on slapstick situational comedy that might work on the stage, but arrives at odds to the film’s remote tone. A running gag about British royalty eating hot dogs for lunch at Walden falls pancake-flat. “Hyde Park on Hudson” feels like two-thirds of a movie. There aren’t enough depths of subplot support to allow Bill Murray’s hemmed-in character to take hold. The movie is great to look at, but the story leaves you wanting so much more.
Rated R. 95 mins. (C+) (Two stars - out of five/no halves)
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