Mark Reviews Movies

Hyde Park on Hudson


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Michell

Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson

MPAA Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 12/7/12 (limited); 12/14/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 13, 2012

The significance of the historic meeting between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King George VI in June of 1939—the first time any monarch of England visited the United States—cannot go unnoticed, except, apparently, by Hyde Park on Hudson. With war looming in Europe, the United Kingdom needs to gain the support of the U.S. to avoid their forces being overrun and their homeland attacked into submission by a seemingly unstoppable Germany.

Richard Nelson's screenplay pays little attention to these details, with characters giving lip service to the larger context of the meeting and moving on without much thought, and, quite quickly, shifts even from the engagement to offer a central character who has absolutely no relevance to the meeting. She is essentially our entryway into the story, and as if the choice to give us an extraneous character as narrator weren't enough, Nelson's script confounds even more when it decides to drop every pretense of the fly-on-the-wall presentation and abandons this character when it becomes clear she really means nothing to the story.

The character in question is Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of the President; she lives in a small town near his estate in Hyde Park, New York (A driver jokes that everyone in the area is related to President somehow). Roosevelt (Bill Murray, a fine stand-in) invites her to his home and the two become fast friends. He seems to have her around to stroke his ego (and, in one scene, another part of him), and eventually, the movie suggests, they become lovers.

Daisy's story essentially ends here. The only additional detail of any import later in her tale is that she is not the only one with whom Roosevelt has engaged in quality time of the extramarital variety, and the ultimate point is that there is, in her mind, a necessary code of silence for those who succumb to the influence of the powerful, lest the people they govern learn the truth and begin to doubt their leadership. The movie seems to shout, "Times have changed;" how it feels about that fact—nostalgic or proud—is the real mystery.

Much of the confusion comes from Daisy's narration, which is odd—considering how unambiguous and straightforward it is—yet understandable—given that it spends as much time on unnecessary details (so much talk about the weather) as it does on story and thematic concerns. Daisy's meandering voice-over grows as tiresome as her blank-faced naïveté, and it's of great relief—though still curious—when Nelson dismisses her services about midway through the movie.

George (Samuel West), still lovingly called "Bertie" by his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), arrives with much hustle and bustle, as the estate's servants, under the meticulous eye of Roosevelt's mother (Elizabeth Wilson), try to make everything perfect for the events to follow. The President, much to Elizabeth's consternation, has kept cartoons from the War of 1812 mocking British soldiers. She believes it to be a cruel joke; George, on the other hand, is too impressed by Roosevelt to be anything other than baffled by their existence in his room. Even more infuriating to Elizabeth is the President's plan to hold a picnic in the King and Queen's honor, with hot dogs making up the main course.

Left to its own devices, the story offers an interesting insider look into the evolving nature of governing. With Daisy out of the picture, the movie allows a private conversation between Roosevelt and George (easily the movie's best scene) in which the two discuss the balancing of their public roles with their private struggles and limitations. Roosevelt, left unable to walk by a childhood bout of polio, is careful in maintaining appearances. He greets the King and Queen in front of his family estate while sitting in a chair. It forgoes decorum and could be considered an insult, but Roosevelt offhandedly apologizes and keeps an air of unflappable confidence through the whole, potentially awkward exchange. It is not until everyone has left that one of his assistants picks him and carries him to the next location on the itinerary.

George's famous stutter and the infamous circumstances under which he rose to the monarchy (His brother, the rightful heir, abdicated the throne for his romantic relationship with an American divorcée) haunt the King. During the dialogue between him and Roosevelt, it becomes clear that the President is not only preparing him for the demands of governance but also grooming him for his public appearance—one that could put a friendly face on a country in whose fate the people of the United States are not currently invested.

It's a clever little ruse, and the bigger picture implications are intriguing. After that scene, though, Hyde Park on Hudson quickly reverts to Daisy for more pondering on the scandalous (and more descriptions of the weather), and whatever importance this episode in history might actually have is completely lost.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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