Hyde Park on Hudson is the country home of the mother of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray), the 32nd President of the United States. In 1939 he hosted the first visit to America of a British monarch, King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife the Queen, Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). It happened to coincide with a blossoming relationship between him and his 5th cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney) who is exposed to what proved to be important historical discussions between the two leaders. Under the watchful gaze of the media, the world and Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), Daisy must come to terms with the failings of a man remembered for all his successes.
Bill Murray is not the obvious choice to play 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt (it should obviously have been Martin Sheen doing his best impression of FDR-a-like President Bartlet from The West Wing) but he brings a subdued grace and charm to the role. It is easy to imagine him playing such a notable historical figure in a big and extroverted manner, but he reigns it in, giving the central performance some humanity. The Olivias; Colman and Williams give excellent performances as two ends of the spectrum, the first a fussy worry-pot and the latter a free-thinking modernist. Surrounded by a predominantly female cast it Murray’s small moments with Samuel West’s less showy British monarch King George VI that give Hyde Park on Hudson its most entertaining spark.
It is a real shame then that the film relies on the voiceover narrative of Linney’s mouse-like Daisy who becomes a real drag on proceedings. It’s not that the ultra-talented Linney doesn’t play the part to perfection, it’s more that her story is far less interesting than the world-building events that take place behind the closed doors of the President’s mother’s house. It may be that Hyde Park on Hudson is trying to cash-in on the success of The King’s Speech a little too much. There are two distinct films in here, the emotional special relationship between Daisy and FDR and the special relationship between the US and Britain. It’s unwillingness to sacrifice either story results in a disappointing mishmash of themes that truly waste the stellar cast.
Aside from the historical rewriting of the build-up to World War II, the soundtrack that keen-earred computer game fans will see directly lifted from Fallout 3 and the constant stereotyping of British and Americans alike, there really isn’t much bite to Hyde Park on Hudson. It neither delves into the depths of character, nor investigates the intrigues of politics at the time. In fact all the edgier moments are cleaned up and removed with the exception of an early car ride. This would be the moment where Daisy ‘falls in love’ with her 5th cousin FDR. Note that love in this instance is helping him reach climax. This scene sits at odds with the playful nature of the rest of the film, and asserts a rather creepy undertone from which their relationship never really recovers, especially as their sexual chemistry is zero throughout.
Hyde Park on Hudson then, must be considered a disappointment. Apart from having our fill of films about King George VI (this is the third in two years) this is a particular stuffy, confused and in parts rather dull installment. The cast are individually excellent, but as they fail to connect on-screen, we the audience fail to connect with them off-screen.