Hyde Park on Hudson has two main focal points, which is at least one too many for a movie unsure of whether or not it wants to be taken seriously. The film examines both the relationship between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) as well as the momentous meeting between the President and the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England on the eve of World War II at Roosevelt’s childhood home in Hyde Park, New York.
Either would make for a fine focus of a small independent film, but attempting to do both simultaneously leaves Richard Nelson‘s script without a split focus that serves neither storyline. The result is a pet project that spirals completely out the control of director Roger Michell and ultimately fails to impress.
Murray is an odd choice for the role of FDR and one of the main obstacles with taking the story seriously. (Several over-the-top supporting performances don’t do the film any favors, either.)
Olivia Williams portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt does the First Lady no favors as the script takes one of the most influential women of the 20th Century and uses her for a punching bag for most of the movie’s 94 minute running time. Elizabeth Wilson fares no better in her one-note performance as the President’s controlling mother.
Linney, who also acts as the narrator of the tale, is problematic. The story, we are told is pieced together from letters and diaries the woman had kept over the years which were not discovered after her death. However, all of the movie’s best sequences are those in which Daisy was neither present nor could have known the particulars of what occurred.
The movie is also burdened with a wild chase sequence through the woods and a bed hopping subplot that drags the film to a screeching halt. It may be interesting to note that FDR was a bigger womanizer while in the White House than Bill Clinton, but the film introduces the idea and just lets it die on-screen through bad romcom melodrama that leads nowhere.
Hyde Park on Hudson does provide a small handful of moments that give the viewer a glimpse at what the movie might have aspired to become in better hands. The best of these the President and King George VI‘s late night discussions, the subtle reminder of how respectful reporters and photographers were with never showcasing FDR in compromising positions (quite different from today’s paparazzi), and the King and Queen’s discussions of odd American customs and whether or not it is appropriate for the King to publicly eat a hot dog.
At best Hyde Park on Hudson is a curiosity, a lighthearted romp at a small but vital visit between the leaders of two countries on the eve of World War II. At worst it’s a frustrating and ill-conceived trainwreck whose choices, both in front and behind the camera, leave much to be desired.