HYDE PARK ON HUDSON Review

I am somewhat bewildered by Hyde Park on Hudson. The film, which is billed as a story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) welcoming the King and Queen of England to their home at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York is not exactly what we get. As you can see, Laura Linney is prominently featured on the poster and as you can read she is not the one playing Eleanor. So, as I was mainly excited for this film for the sole reason of Murray's performance it became somewhat of a surprise when the real story the film was telling began to expose itself. For this is not just another film you could throw in the pile with with The King's Speech or Madonna's W.E. (though those films aren't anywhere close to being in the same category) in terms of putting together a chronological look at England's monarchy but instead this is a film from the perspective of Linney's Daisy, a distant cousin of the president. The issue with Hyde Park on Hudson though is not that it isn't refreshing because of that surprise turn of events but that it never turns out to be that good of a movie. There are certainly redeeming qualities here; the acting, the look of the film, the pacing. All of these work in the movies favor but it just never becomes that interesting despite its subject matter, which is shocking. I am no expert on FDR nor was I aware of the events on which this film is based, all of which I thought might make me feel more inclined to like the film, but instead it just made it all feel a little weird.


It all seems fairly engaging in the opening moments, a bit of the extraordinary finding its way into Daisy's standard life. An invitation from the President for no apparent reason other than to relieve him of his boredom reaches down the line to Daisy and from there she becomes, as she would put it, "not just fifth cousins, but very good friends." This process happens very hastily as you might not imagine as about ten minutes in we get a scene where FDR drives, with full intention, to the top of a beautiful, deserted hill. Here Daisy uses her hands to relieve the President of something else and in turn takes the audience completely out of the film. The tone up to this point is so light, that of a trifle and not a heavy handed drama or some outlandish bit of comedy, but instead it is something that could have been extremely insightful. That tone is completely lost in that moment and instead it all turns into a rather campy look at Roosevelt and his sexual escapades that doesn't amount to anything more than us being told a story through the meek, timid eyes of a woman who was wooed by the status of a man and her companionship was taken advantage of.

I enjoy history which I guess informed my interest in this film along with the idea of Murray as the 32nd President, but I had not heard of this little footnote in history until the talks of this film began. I therefore don't know how true any of this is, but from what I've read concerning Daisy (real name Margaret Suckley) there is no concrete evidence that she shared a sexual relationship with FDR. Still, the film more than hints at this as being a fact and when it does this, when it takes us out of that flighty, sunny afternoon of a tone we are no longer delivered a film that focuses on the meeting between the President and the King and Queen but instead all the subtext and innuendos going on during their visit. Initially I was into it, I thought it would make things more interesting and add more spice to what might have otherwise been a typical history tale. Instead, it not only detracts from the finely entertaining story of how FDR entertained his royal guests but it makes the entire film feel unfocused and not sure of what story it really wants to tell.

Murray doesn't really look much like FDR but he certainly seems to create a persona, and a charming one, in this regard though he isn't given much room to develop as he is limited to the one characterization that is defined early on in the film. Linney is also more than capable as anyone who knows her work can appreciate her here, the only problem with the role is that Linney is almost too good to be playing someone so seemingly bland. We also never get to know Daisy as we should. She is our narrator, the one taking us through the story, yet we know little more about her life than she is struggling, as everyone else is, during the depression and she lives with her mother. When she is summoned to Hyde Park on the Hudson we learn even less about her as the focus shifts to Murray and his visitors. I enjoyed Samuel West as Bertie, The King and his discussions with FDR the night before a picnic where hot dogs will be served (believe me, this is a big deal) are good fun, and easily the most insightful piece of the entire film. Lucky for us, the pacing is brisk and the end comes quicker than expected. It is a quaint, boring little film that isn't always uninspired but never becomes anything more than tedious.