Synopsis: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York
Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron, Olivia Williams
Director: Roger Michell
Running Length: 94 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: When I was young, I used to take weekend visits to my grandparents in Preston MN and more often than not we would take what is known as a Sunday Drive. This involved piling into some big Cadillac/Oldsmobile and just heading off in any given direction to see where the roads would take us. A pleasant and quiet time with conversations that were soft and familiar, it wouldn’t be out of the question if you nodded off a bit. Just as often you would perk up if something of interest flew by, your curiosity piqued. Though you always knew the destination would lead you back to where you started, you ended up not minding that you took the time for the trip.
Hyde Park on Hudson is like those Sunday Drives of my youth. It’s one of the thinnest slice of life tales you’re likely to come by this year, harmless and almost gone from your memory by the time you’ve reached your car. Charting an affair between FDR (Murray) and his cousin, Daisy (Linney) around the time that the King and Queen of England made their first visit to the US, the film mostly sticks to its pre-destined path and offers little variance from its formulaic (if realistic) set-up.
The light-hearted, breezy trailer for the film belies its true dramatic thrust and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy that the film wasn’t played all for laughs. Though the adulterous doings of the President and a family member (however distant) may cause you to wince a bit, director Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) and screenwriter Richard Nelson wisely steer clear of making that the true focus of the film.
The movie is most interesting in showing the relationships between FDR and the women in his life – Daisy, his mother (Wilson), his wife (Williams), and secretary Missy (Marvel). These scenes work so well because Murray shows a totally different side to his acting as FDR. I’ve long found Murray to be an aloof grump, thanks in no part to roles that only reinforce that feeling (though he was excellent in Moonrise Kingdom). His FDR is a real career highlight and had the acting field not been so strong this year, he could have found himself with an Oscar nomination for his work.
The casting of Linney was a bit problematic – mostly because we’ve seen her do this work before in better films. I’ve grown to like Linney less and less as the years go by, a talent that was once razor sharp feels a bit dull now and her Daisy is perhaps a bit too naïve, too forgiving for the thick skinned Linney to play convincingly. Actually, I couldn’t get Laura Dern out of my mind when I was watching the film…she may have been a better choice.
Williams, Wilson, and especially Marvel do nice work in their supporting roles but its West and Colman as the visiting royalty that walk away with the movie. Though they are playing characters familiar to movie goers (Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter recently played them in The Kings Speech), they make their own mark on the Royals who are visiting the US in a thinly veiled plea for help with the impending war.
West and Murray share one of the best scenes of 2012 as they talk about the impairments both suffer (a stutter for the King and polio for the President) and how it affects the way the public and their wives see them. It’s a dynamic scene that both actors play pitch perfectly with Murray delivering my favorite two lines spoken in a movie this year: “What stutter?”
I only wish there were more scenes like that in the movie. Even at a relatively short 94 minutes, I felt the film dragged on in its own reverie a bit too much. Cinematographer Lol Crawley does excellent work in filming what Production Designer Simon Bowles has cooked up in his period settings. Also nice was a unique score by Jeremy Sams that captured the feel of the time and also the mood of the scenes.
Inexplicably rated R for an implied sex scene, Hyde Park on Hudson isn’t destined for the history books nor should it be. It’s a nicely formed small bite of a film that gets its job done and nothing more. I’d recommend it as a choice for a leisurely Sunday diversion.