Hyde Park on Hudson

Bill Murray is a philandering FDR

Hyde Park on Hudson

Rating Hyde Park on HudsonHyde Park on HudsonHyde Park on HudsonHyde Park on Hudson

Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman, Blake Ritson, Samuel West, Eleanor Bron, Martin McDougall, Tim Ahern, Tommy Campbell, Sam Creed, Jeff Mash, Kevin Millington, Elizabeth Wilson. Written by Richard Nelson.

About ten minutes into Hyde Park on Hudson, Bill Murray’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt receives a handjob in the front seat of his custom-made Ford Phaeton. Interesting, I thought. Keep in mind: this isn’t a comedy. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, somewhere in the historical romance category. Highly unconventional romance. 

After some more FDR philandering, I began thinking the film was crude, even vulgar; at what level do we not want to see our historical figures presented as sexual beings (at least, in serious material)? Gandhi, one would presume, is off limits. Ditto Einstein. FDR is not high on the list. I wonder what the reaction would be if Spielberg included similar material in Lincoln.

Hyde Park is historically accurate, apparently, if that justifies the presentation: Richard Nelson’s script is based, at least partly, on the letters between Roosevelt and Margaret (Daisy) Suckley (played by Laura Linney), which were discovered after her death in 1991. While the letters detail a close friendship between the two, however, there isn’t evidence of a sexual relationship, which the film directly implies.

Daisy was FDR’s distant cousin, an upstate New York resident who received a call from FDR’s mother one day informing her that the president could use some company at his Hyde Park estate. The two develop a rather unlikely relationship, given that the president is not only married to wife Eleanor (Olivia Colman) but also having an affair with secretary Marguerite LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel). According to the film, mind you.

We don’t expect this to go anywhere, but the film treats their relationship with lyrical romanticism as the pair drives through fields of flowers, Jeremy Sams’ terrific score swirls on the soundtrack, and they share deep, meaningful glances. The moral? Hey, he’s FDR, so you gotta learn to share his love with all the other ladies. But it can still be beautiful, baby. 

Regardless of the authenticity of the material – which doesn’t even seem to be all that authentic, but I digress – I can only admire the sheer nerve it took for the filmmakers to present their film this way. The target audience – whether looking for romance or history – will reject this thing outright, and rightly so. 

But wait! There is some good here, in the form of King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), the first King and Queen to visit the USA, who come to Hyde Park in 1939 to lobby for FDR’s support with the inevitable war. As Roosevelt helps George with his stutter…oh, you’ve seen The King’s Speech? Well, have you seen Bertie eat a hot dog?

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Hyde Park on Hudson was directed by Roger Michell, who has put together a diverse portfolio over the years, and done some great work with conventional material (Enduring Love, Changing Lanes), along with, well, some conventional work with conventional material (Notting Hill, Morning Glory). Hyde Park on Hudson, put together with skill but not grace or subtlety, is easily the director’s weakest film. 

Mitigating circumstances: sets, costumes, and cinematography (Lol Crawley) are all first-rate. The soundtrack is likewise superb, with Sams’ original score accompanied by well-chosen hits of the era including Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade and The Ink Spots’ I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire (a personal favorite) and If I Didn’t Care. While haphazardly constructed and perhaps even morally reprehensible, Hyde Park on Hudson is always easy on the eyes and ears.

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