Roger Michell‘s Hyde Park on Hudson (Focus Features, 12.7) is a mildly appealing, well-finessed historical parlor piece, subtle and dryly comedic and aimed at older audiences. It’s a movie for your moms and dads. But apart from one richly affecting scene between President Franklin D. Roosevelt (engagingly played by Bill Murray) and his guest, King George VI (Samuel West), it feels mild and trifling and slight. Not offensively or dismissively, mind. It’s just nothing to get riled about either way.
Richard Nelson‘s script is basically a presentation of two disparate tales involving FDR — his intimate (i.e., faintly sexual) friendship with Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney), which apparently began sometime in the late 1930s and lasted until his death in 1945, and FDR having received King George VI and his wife Elizabeth at the Roosevelt retreat in Hyde Park in June 1939.
These two story lines do not intersect in any meaningful or corresponding manner. We are shown that FDR’s thing with Daisy is pleasantly underway as the King and Queen arrive for their visit, and it’s soon evident these twains will never meet or combine in any way that will amount to bupkis, nor should they.
What occurs? FDR clearly likes Daisy and vice versa. Daisy gives FDR a handjob. Daisy is hurt and shocked (in a rather trying, adolescent and tantrum-y way) when she realizes she is not Roosevelt’s only girlfriend — Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel) has also been his “friend.” (This in addition to FDR’s longstanding relationship with Lucy Mercer.) But she gets over it. The King feels nourished and soothed by a boozy, late-evening chat with FDR — truly the film’s centerpiece. The King and Queen agree to be good-humored guests at an outdoor picnic, at which the King eats a mustard-basted hot dog.
The Queen is very bothered by the prospect and the metaphor of hot-dog consumption. The film brings it up..what, three or four times? No motion picture in history has ever paid so much attention to red weiners on a bun. No, that’s not a double entendre.
And everybody smokes cigarettes. Trust me, his movie is as much about the presence of constantly lighted and inhaled cigarettes as anything else. Literally every five or six minutes somebody lights up and takes a nice deep drag….yessss. Hyde Park on Hudson is one of the most persuasive advertisements on behalf of the tobacco industry to come along in a long, long time.
Hyde Park on Hudson is Murray’s show, for the most part. He doesn’t deliver an impersonation of FDR as much as a conveyance of his personality, manner and assured vibe. I wasn’t knocked out as much as pleased that he got through it by feigning smooth, old-world charm with a hint of melancholia.
But forget any kind of performance laurels thrown to Linney — she’s playing a very slight person, and hasn’t much to work with. (Those Gold Derby subscribers who predicted Linney would get awards heat need to be taken outdoors and spoken to. Tom O”Neil? That’s your job.) The always enticing Olivia Williams has very little to say or do as Eleanor Roosevelt, which was the way it was in real life as Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage had, by 1939, been mostly about appearances for a couple of decades. West is vulnerable and appealing as King George, but Olivia Colman‘s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth is a portrait of a joyless prig…sorry.