Keeping it in the family – ★★
Concerning the weekend when the King and Queen of England visited America to converse with Franklin D. Roosevelt about their mutual interests, Hyde Park on Hudson goes for a light and breezy examination of the enigmatic FDR.
Bill Murray is playing it straight this time, no funny glasses, hats or walks – well OK, two out of three ain’t bad. Not being a yankee doodle dandy my knowledge of FDR extends to about three facts, he had difficulty walking due to polio, didn’t care too much for Nazis and didn’t fear anything not even fear itself, or something like that. So from the beginning it’s interesting to see that the real first lady was in fact his mother and not his wife. He spent most of his time in Hyde Park (which belonged to his mother) and only occupied a few rooms when he stayed.
Not one to be by himself, he needed some female company to take his mind off the problems of the day – imminent outbreak of WWII, that sort of stuff. Calling up his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) he slowly begins to seduce her and starts an affair. No one seems to bat even an eyelash giving rise to the assumptions that this wasn’t the first time. What gives the film some life is the visit of King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), making for much forced hilarity between the former colony and it’s colonisers. The interesting aspect is the similarity between King and President, both have their own ailments – polio and a crippling stammer, but this is merely a footnote and isn’t sufficiently developed.
The King’s Speech is far too recent to have left people’s memories therefore making it nigh on impossible for West to give a performance in his own right without comparisons to Colin Firth being drawn. Colman is convincing and hopefully thanks to previous work in Tyrannosaur she’ll be able to make inroads into America. The most fascinating character of the whole piece is FDR’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), neither afraid of or beholden to anyone, she lays down the law and is more than aware of her husband’s extra-marital affairs. An interesting concept is how each generation seems to think it invents sex and odd or morally questionable practices, yet they have been in place since time immemorial, the only difference being people used to keep their mouths shut.
The film is set during one of the most turbulent times not only in America (The Great Depression), but in the world (outbreak of WWII) and concerns some of the most powerful players in both those affairs and what we are left with is a bland love story. Linney and Murray sleepwalk through their roles never raising the merest hint of a sweat. With bright colours and expansive landscapes we never feel any sense of menace or untoward dealings being carried out, meaning when a sprinkling of this comes along at the end it jars and seems out of place. Hyde Park could have been either a tense drama on the power play between nations or an examination of the sexual politics of the day, but what we get instead is a lame duck movie.
UK / Directed By: Roger Michell / Written By: Richard Nelson / Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman, Samuel West / 94min / Drama, Comedy / Release: 1 February 2013 (Ireland, UK), 7 December 2012 (USA, Canada)