Two storylines provide the narrative for Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson, Bill Murray's latest film which open today (Jan. 4)
One features the story of a love affair between Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Murray) and his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) and the other deals with the first visit of a British monarch to American shores, that of King Edward (Samuel West) and his mission to get help from the States during World War II.
One of these stories isn’t up to the task. Some have complained that Hyde Park makes Pres. Roosevelt seem like a horndog because it’s eventually revealed that he’s conducting several dalliances with the women in his life, none of whom were wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). The leader of the free world is a randy, horny kind of dude even though paralyzed from childhood polio? Big freakin’ deal.
How many times have Americans found out that ultimately presidents were actually human? The president and Daisy’s relationship is a yawner, even as he seduces her on a drive in the country which ends in a scene of digital crotch manipulation, there’s little to it. The problem: it’s the part that’s supposed to anchor the film.
In actuality, Edward’s visit to the U.S. should have occupied that lofty position and there are a myriad of reasons.
The film’s absolute best moments take place when Roosevelt and Edward are alone bantering back and forth, talking about politics and their countries’ respective places in it. You can see Murray and West actually bond on screen as they play off one another.
Knowing that Edward, who ascended to the throne after his brother abdicated, had never been his father’s favorite, Roosevelt willingly fills a role that the king never really had in his life.
The fact that these two actors pull it off proves to be Hyde Park’s saving grace because it and the ancillary events that surround the meeting keep the film afloat.
When a director can build tension around whether a monarch will attend a picnic and indulge the locals by eating a hot dog, he has something. The rather tepid love affair nearly undoes it.
Michell can thank Murray and West for pulling it off. They and their characters are studies in contrasts – the confident president who gained wisdom through assorted battles in life and the young king still searching for where exactly he fits in the world.
That doesn’t leave a lot for the talented Linney to munch on. Someone with her skills will always make the best of a situation and she does so by giving us a window into FDR’s world. She also ably takes us through her character’s journey as she evolves from upstate New York country girl to worldly woman.
It’s not enough to lift her story or Hyde Park on Hudson beyond the pedestrian, however.
Movie: Hyde Park on Hudson
Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West
Studio: Focus Features
Rated: R (brief sexuality)
Running time: 94 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com