Hyde Park on Hudson (2013) Review

     Ghostbusters 3 might not be happening but at least we can say we saw Bill Murray play one of America’s greatest presidents. Though it’s Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) that narrates the story of her affair with the ailing Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the eve of World War II, Murray’s turn as the president is the real core of Hyde Park on Hudson. Through Daisy’s eyes, we watch as Roosevelt receives King George VI (Samuel West), the first British monarch ever to visit U.S. soil, at his mother’s country estate. While this was mostly a visit of diplomatic goodwill, its deeper purpose was to court American popular support for the British cause as they prepared to stand up to Hitler’s conquest of Europe. It is a testament to both FDR’s brilliance as a president and the subtleness of Roger Michell’s filmmaking that the impending conflict receives only passing mentions. Hyde Park is, along with Daisy herself, Roosevelt’s retreat where he can, as he says, “forget the world”. The film’s conflicts stem more from the Queen’s (Rosemary Cross) misinterpretation of the president’s casual attitude as disrespect than from fears of Nazi annexation.
     It is precisely this casualness that makes Murray the fantastic centerpiece of an otherwise dull film. Stricken with polio nearly twenty years before the small slice of time depicted by Hyde Park, FDR is shown to be almost cavalier about the resulting physical disability, allowing himself to be carried around like a baby and cracking jokes at his own expense. His relaxed attitude extends to his interactions with the king and queen as the film asks us to let ourselves loosen up as its characters do. We can bond with them on a human level, not as leaders with the weight of the world on their shoulders but as men with flaws and emotions.
     The film’s female characters, on the other hand, are nowhere near as deep or well-drawn, which is puzzling given FDR’s proclivity for dynamic female company. It is especially telling that we have no good reason to care about the woman that is actually telling us the story. It almost seems like Michell would have to have gone out of his way to make Daisy so flat. She gets dragged along by her own story, falling for the 32nd president with a speed that would make most romantic comedies jealous, seemingly bringing nothing to the table in that relationship. The queen may be even worse, as she appears to have come to America with her husband to do nothing more than complain and tell him what his brother would have done differently. She does, however, provide one of the film’s running jokes at the expense of British stereotypes as she learns that hot dogs will be served at the president’s picnic, which fills her with a comedically overdrawn sense of dread.
  
 In a Nutshell: Worth it for Bill Murray’s performance, but anyone who doesn’t love him as much as Woody Harrelson’s character does in Zombieland should stay home. 

Director: Roger Michell

Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney

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