Old 04-02-2013, 09:15 PM
Hyde Park on Hudson


In June of 1939, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth made a visit to the United States where they stayed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at his country estate in Hyde Park, New York. It was the first instance of a British monarch visiting the US. With four of the most intriguing personalities of the 20th century gathered together, Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson had the remarkable potential of a fascinating biographical piece but somehow it manages to play out like a tedious made-for-TV affair. It might as well have adopted the title of ‘What happens at Hyde Park stays at Hyde Park’ as we could certainly do without what we’re offered here.

Roosevelt (Bill Murray) was hoping the royal visit would result in an alliance that would overthrow Hitler. In his personal life he was growing close to Margaret “Daisy” Suckle (Laura Linney), his sixth cousin, who would eventually become his mistress. The relationship that develops between them seems to happen rather quickly with the attraction boiling down to their mutual admiration of his stamp collection. Yes, that’s as interesting as it gets and it’s just as dull as it sounds. The two take lengthy drives together, the first of which leads to an awkward “intimate” encounter, while their seeming inability to communicate offers little in the way of audio stimulation; this wouldn’t be such an issue if there was any sort of chemistry brewing between them but Murray and Linney make for a terribly dull pairing.

Adding a bit more life into proceedings are West and Coleman who play the fish-out-of-water angle to the hilt, and come off more like caricatures than characters, but at least they are able to grab your attention. With the figures played gloriously by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, it’s difficult not to compare the performances, and here they don’t equate in the slightest, try though they might. As is the case with Roosevelt’s relationship with Margaret, nothing is ever richly explored between the President and the King, and when the film does decide to present us with a tender moment where they confer over their physical ailments, Roosevelt with his polio and the King with his stutter, it never exploits it effectively. Instead, the affair grows mediocre with much fuss over a planned picnic and the choice of serving hotdogs proving more integral to the story than an agreement that saw America come to British aid.

There’s so much wrong here that it’s frustrating as there is a fine gallery of talent involved in a story that could have been so interesting, but nearly every avenue explored is a dead end. The story of the King and Queen doesn’t work because it refuses to move beyond their initial shock of American customs, and Roosevelt’s infidelity even less so as we just don’t care. Laura Linney is a fine actress, but her portrayal of Margaret is terrible and as the narrator of the film she offers us nothing. There’s also Olivia Williams as Eleanor, Roosevelt’s wife, who ends up being no more than just a set fixture with the obviously tense relationship between her and Roosevelt barely acknowledged and played out as if the intricacies of their marriage are common knowledge.

One thing that slightly works is Murray. Unusual choice as he may be, he at least is taking a risk with the role and does capture some of the wit, though he never achieves that presence of being in the company of a man that was as powerful as the President was. A tiny, uneventful film that doesn’t offer the peek behind the curtains it so wants to provide, this is a destination best left alone.

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