Movie Review: 'Hyde Park on Hudson' -- 2.5 stars
Hyde Park on Hudson
Directed by Roger Michell
Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman
"Hyde Park on Hudson" offers a fascinating story cloaked in an innocuous one. It's simultaneously an enlightening historical account and a softhearted comedy of manners, and you wish director Roger Michell had gone one way or the other.
King George VI's June 1939 visit to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Hyde Park, N.Y. home happened at a critical juncture, with the storm clouds of war brewing on the horizon. If this film is to be believed, their weekend together began the forging of the "special relationship" between the U.K. and U.S. that helped save the world in the '40s and holds strong to this day.
"Hyde Park's" portrait of that fateful encounter has the power of history on its side, drawing on our awareness of what was to come. Every moment shared by FDR (Bill Murray) and the king (Samuel West) is fraught with significance, with Michell and his actors amplifying the melancholy that underlies the dinners, late-night conversations and picnics shared by the men and their wives. Scripted by Richard Nelson, it's an astute, microcosmic portrait of two very different men forging common ground, in which the hopes of the world are tied into whether the king chooses to eat a hot dog.
Unfortunately, the other half of "Hyde Park" is centered on FDR's messy but thoroughly humdrum love life. Framed from the perspective of his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), in whom the president takes a special interest, it's a lighthearted depiction of various extramarital affairs and the jealousy that ensued from them. Daisy, also the overbearing narrator, is singularly uninteresting, a cipher distracting the audience from the more important matters concerning Murray's expertly played Roosevelt.
The Daisy scenes play like your everyday drawing-room comedy, with a touch of drama, a smidgen of tasteful romance, lots of pristine imagery and plenty of gossip. You could surely make a fine movie about FDR's matters of the heart, but there's far too much at stake here.