Movie review: 'Hyde Park on Hudson' features a great performance and little else
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Biographical, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Wilson
Directed by Roger Michell (Morning Glory, Notting Hill, Enduring Love)
Margaret Stuckley was a distant cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and after her death at the age of 100, a box of letters was discovered under her bed. These letters are the basis of this film and detail an affair young Margaret had with the President.
Set in the late 30s, Hyde Park on Hudson may strike many viewers as familiar…that is because a portion of the film centers on the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman), the same couple recently featured in the Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech. On the brink of WW II, it was a vital diplomatic move for England to secure the support of the U.S., so in 1939 the King and Queen made their first-ever trip to the States to meet with then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The trouble with Hyde Park on Hudson is the inconsistencies in how this story jumps all over the map. On one hand, it is a biographical portrayal of a very charismatic American figure. On the other, it details a very ugly side of fame and power as we see this married leader of the free world engaged in extra-marital affairs. Then, it is a fish-out-of-water tale of two Brits on American soil. The sum of all of these parts is a film without a purpose.
Bill Murray seems an odd choice to play FDR, but he gives a strong performance. Underused are his overbearing mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and iconic First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), who are present but never really examined. The whole film has a brushed-over vibe to it, as if the screenplay was written while perusing through this supposed box of letters.
Most interesting is the tale involving the King and Queen. As guests in a foreign land, they are taken aback when local farmers fail to salute them as they pass by. The Queen is appalled that they will be served hot dogs at a public picnic and fears the Americans are making fun of them. The King learns a lesson in confidence as FDR takes him under his wing. It was a crucial meeting at a crucial point in history and it is amazing to think of how this may have gone down with two other people in their places. Then again, another King may not have even made the trek.
Sadly, this story is only told in fragments as it bounces all over the place. In fact, FDR’s affair with his cousin Margaret is probably the least interesting thread of them all. Hyde Park on Hudson portrays a different era in America, where secrets were possible. It’s just told with the effectiveness of a whisper.
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