I wasn’t fully certain that I was prepared to see Hyde Park On Hudson, the latest Bill Murray film in which he portrays FDR during the crucial summer of 1939 when King George the VI was visiting America to solicit help in the tumultuous affairs that were brewing in Europe. I thought, it’s a bit odd to see Murray having to be aplomb as our 32nd President, odd in that he is mixing the lovable witticism of his personality with that of the polio stricken President. I knew the setting in which the film was taking place and who the players were in this film, but I don’t think I was prepared to see a movie that doesn’t focus on the most important meet-up in world history at that time. No, Hyde Park on Hudson is more about the relationships and civility of the people who all met on that faithful summer of 1939 at the estate of FDR’s mother. The King and Queen of England, Franklin and Eleanor, and FDR’s distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley.
Also Bill Murray’s FDR gets himself a little hand jibber action on a meadow. Just thought I should put that out there immediately.
Hyde Park on Hudson is an intimate look at the relationships of Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) with his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) and mistress/distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) during their time of hosting the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) as they visit America. The meeting of the greatest men in history is narrated and seen through the eyes of Daisy, as she leads us through the mirth of dealing with an amorous President and English royalties coming to terms with having to eat a hotdog.
Yeah, the plot/story is a bit murky and that’s the biggest issue I have with Hyde Park on Hudson. It’s more of a precursor to The King’s Speech rather than a deep look into FDR’s meeting with the King of England. The focus shifts to his dalliances with women, one of which happens to be his distant cousin Daisy and his infatuation with her. Daisy acts as the eyes for the audience, peering into private moments of vulnerability of the 32nd President, while narrating to us some insight into the upcoming picnic that will apparently solidify our relations with England.
The story of the film is terribly inconsistent. On one hand, I can see that the meeting is more window dressing instead of the focal point. I mean this is one of the most important meetings in history in which the English nobility came to America to get assistance with the impending war with Germany. But it’s treated as just an insignificant meeting, a meeting that is settled over the act of eating a hot dog. With this political sideshow act as just that, a sideshow, our gaze is turned towards FDR and his relationships. We get to learn a bit more about what makes him tick, a little bit more of that veneer is chipped away to showcase that, well, FDR is a poon hound.
That’s it really, that’s pretty much what I got from the movie and the narration from Daisy. FDR is a flavor man and he likes different women. Does that make him a bad guy, not really apparently. Daisy resigns the notion that while a hand job in the meadows means that they are “very good friends” it doesn’t behold him to her and vice versa. It tries to humanize the polio stricken president, one of the greatest in American history, into a normal human being, one that isn’t the most powerful man in the free land. It tries to create some sort of intimate, dynamic storyline between FDR, Daisy and his other loves, but it’s not that interesting sadly.
Hyde Park on Hudson falls flat in trying to tell an uninteresting, sorry, non-compelling story about a man and his mistresses, a parallel that director Roger Michell and writer Richard Nelson try to link to the relationship between the President and the King with their special relationship. The focus of the two relationships shift so often that they never feel complete or even relevant. I mean the best parts of the movie is when Roosevelt is having confidential talks and cajoling with King George into having a sit down and eating a hot dog. These are the best moments, a meeting of two famous men in history, but right when it gets good, we move to the slightly titillating affairs of Daisy and Roosevelt.
Laura Linney is saddled with having to try to sell this hidden story to the audience, but she is laconic with her exposition as a narrator that these requited loves are not that interesting. She isn’t bad in this movie, in fact she is fantastic in playing this love-sick woman who cares deeply for the vulnerable President, but also naive in her understanding of his affections. It’s that the dynamics between her and Murray are not the most interesting or well-developed aspect of the movie.
Bill Murray on the other hand, truly mesmerizing as the 32nd President. His portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt mixes a strong, stoic disposition with a happy, witty president. His personality shines through every scene of the film and he is at his best when handing out platitudes and developing these causal relationships. It’s a very humanizing portrayal of FDR, as he is shown to have many loves and able to chide and joke with the King of England. It’s just a shame that his scenes are split between Daisy and The King, never having a chance to really focus on aspect of the script.
The movie doesn’t seem to know what point it wants to make in the end. We are given an unsatisfying ending to all the proceedings of the political meet-up and also the resolution with Daisy and her revelations about the man she comes to admire aren’t that compelling either. For a movie that is more about the unknown affairs of the president and Daisy, director Michell spends a lot of time not developing that angle, thus muddling the true nature of the film. If he wants to focus on his marital affairs, then have it be that. If he wants drama/comedy to be about an important meeting in history, then have it be that. The two stories are just slightly connected by this barely there theme of relationships and it loses its grip and wastes its talent.
A stilted story, unknown plot direction and some wasted moments to solidify the foundation of the movie plague Hyde Park on Hudson. The truly best moments are Bill Murray and his portrayal of FDR. Commanding, light-hearted and endearing, his moments with West’s King George would have made a much better movie or even a decent prequel to The King’s Speech. I know that a lot of people will be looking to his role as a possible Oscar buzz precursor, but I wouldn’t be reaching for any ballots soon. It’s a good portrayal, but the film doesn’t compliment his timbre, demeanor and acting abilities.
No, director Michell doesn’t craft a story with a particular purpose to it. The movie can essentially be explained by the metaphor of FDR telling King George about the implied importance of eating a hotdog with him. In the end, it’s just a hotdog and it doesn’t mean anything at all.
Rating: 2 hotdogs out of 5