'Hyde Park On Hudson' — A Delightful Historical Romp
Hyde Park on Hudson felt delightful, even when it shouldn’t have. It is, after all, about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) infidelity and rather unsettling incestuous relationship with his distant cousin Margaret Suckely (Laura Linney). It is also about King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth’s (Olivia Colman) visit with President Roosevelt at his mother’s home in Hyde Park, N.Y., just as England was seeking the United States’ support before the start of World War II. It was the first time that a British monarch had ever visited the United States, and it serves as the action driving the love story between Suckley and Roosevelt. And while these scenes with Britain's royalty are often hilarious, even they are haunted by the looming war; how can anyone eat hot dogs, as they all do at a much-ballyhooed picnic — at a time like this?
Here’s how confused I was upon leaving this movie; I wanted to recommend it to my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents even though I knew full well that there is a scene in which Linney is giving Murray a hand-job in FDR’s custom-made car.
The movie opens with a voice-over from Linney’s Suckely. Her voice, one I seemed never to have fully appreciated, has a soothing quality to it, like the sound of hot coffee being poured into a ceramic mug. It’s a perfect introduction into a movie that then features outstanding performances by Murray, West, Colman and Olivia Williams, who plays Eleanor Roosevelt. These actors each fully inhabit their characters, and I would go so far as to say Murray deserves Oscar recognition, but I fear this year’s awards will have room for only one dead president.
Perhaps I would have balked more at the occasional disappearance of Linney’s Suckely, or the sudden departure of the King and Queen, who, after occupying much of the film, are done away with a simple voice-over and montage — hardly a proper goodbye — had director Roger Mitchell not created such a serene and lovely movie-going experience. In the same way that a blockbuster action movie asks you to turn your brain off and buckle up, Hyde Park on Hudson lulls you into a gentle cadence. The camera pans across open fields, smoky lounges and dusty horse stables, and Richard Nelson’s script deftly explores the many deep character conflicts in a relatively short amount of time (95 minutes) so that the movie ends on a tight, crisp note.
This is a movie that can be peeled back many layers, and it is up to the viewer to decide how deep they want to go; I was just in the mood for lighter fare, and chose to take on the movie the way so much of America saw FDR. In President Roosevelt's smoky study at the end of a long and raucous dinner party, King George VI confesses his self-doubts to Roosevelt, to which the President assures, “We think they see all our flaws. That’s not what they are looking to find when they look to us.”