Hyde Park on the Hudson
Franklin and the King: Meandering story, inaccurate portrayals hamper exploration of FDR in Hyde Park on the Hudson
Thursday, January 3, 2013
There’s a scene in Hyde Park on the Hudson in which a pool of reporters are waiting for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to come out of his mansion and get into his car. They all stand by, waiting quietly, patiently, as the polio-stricken president is carried out by a helper and placed in the backseat of his convertible. He then gives the reporters an “Okay, boys!” and they get numerous shots of his beaming, delighted smile.
When viewed through a modern context, the scene is laughable. There’s no way President Obama could limit the access of media to nearly the extent that FDR enjoyed – heck, JFK could barely do it and that was only 20 years after FDR. The scene is important, though, because it explains how FDR (Bill Murray) could get away with having numerous affairs while on work vacation in Hyde Park, New York, including one with his distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney). It’s shocking to think of the power one possesses when he controls the media.
When the story remains focused on FDR and his personal flaws, which aside from the womanizing are minimal, director Roger Michell’s (Notting Hill) film is at its best. Murray doesn’t necessarily look or sound that much like FDR, but he does capture the aura and power FDR no doubt wielded, often to fascinating affect. Linney is solid (as usual) as Daisy, but much like her character there’s a helplessness that impedes her from doing more with the role. And for what it’s worth, Olivia Williams’ Eleanor Roosevelt is as feisty and butch as history remembers her to be.
The year is 1939, and distracting FDR and Daisy from quality time is a weekend visit from Great Britain’s King Albert (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) – the same king and queen featured in The King’s Speech – who are under pressure to secure support for the impending world war. In the film FDR greets the king and queen in Hyde Park. In reality, Albert and Elizabeth stayed at the White House prior to visiting FDR’s Hyde Park estate.
Far too many scenes depict Albert and Elizabeth as unsure of themselves and if they’re being treated respectfully, none of which have anything to do with Daisy. And as the story begins to bounce around to the various happenings of the weekend, including an emphasis on whether Albert will eat a hotdog at a picnic, the real focus is lost.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have details about how (arguably) the greatest president in American history lived day by day? To learn more about the dynamics of his relationship with Eleanor? To discover how and why his personality made him such an effective leader but a flawed man? None of these aspects are fully explored because we spend so much time watching the British king and queen being paranoid.
Overall, Hyde Park on the Hudson offers a rarely seen look at a fearless, flawed leader who found zest in life during stressful times. Given that our archival footage of FDR is limited to speeches and fireside chats, it’s a shame we don’t learn more about him here.
HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON (2) • Directed by Roger Michell • Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman • Rated R • 94 min. • At Osio Cinemas.