(United Kingdom, 2012)
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West, Olivia Coleman
Written by: Richard Nelson
Directed by: Roger Mitchell
Ever since "Stripes" was in first-run I've been telling anyone within earshot that "no film with Bill Murray in it is a waste of time" (and that includes "Loose Shoes" and the remake of "The Razor's Edge"), a sentiment not held by many until well into the late 20th century, when his first collaboration with Wes Anderson changed a lot of sceptics' minds (but really, after Dr. Venkman in "Ghostbusters" and his turn as "Mr. McNulty" on "Square Pegs", how could you not concede?). Of course, my theory was proven wrong by McG's miserable "Charlie's Angels", and I've felt the sting ever since...
"Hyde Park On The Hudson" isn't an exceptional film, but once again, the presence of Chicago's most indefatigable deadpan satirist makes it worth the sit, if for no other reason than to see him revel in a change from his patented onscreen persona: none other than beloved Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only man to serve more than two terms as U.S. President.
FDR might be most renowned for his New Deals, war heroism, and civil rights advocacy, but this low-key episode takes place almost entirely at his country estate in bucolic Hyde Park, New York in the summer of 1939. Told from the point-of-view of his sixth-cousin and mistress Margaret Suckley (Linney), there is much tension as the president prepares to host a visit from England's King George VI (West)and his wife, the Queen Elizabeth (Coleman). As war was breaking out in Europe and would inevitably expand, the monarchs hoped to bolster American-British relations, in anticipation of the horrors that would erupt across the globe mere months later...
Murray is that unique actor who can vividly evoke his cool comfort within his own skin, and he brings much of that quality to FDR, who must struggle daily with the potential indignities of his polio braces and having to be hoisted in and out of his chair like an infant. Despite such hurdles, he's quite a seducer, with Suckley being his latest conquest (Nelson's script is an expansion of his stage play, which was based upon Suckley's recently published post-mortem diaries), not that First Lady Eleanor (Williams) seems to care much...
The rest of the cast is saddled with a well-meaning but ultimately turgid melodrama that is more or less a retelling of "The King's Speech", with George VI (aka "Bertie") and FDR finding agreeable mutual ground in dealing with their respective afflictions while their spouses, family, and friends fret dutifully.
There are nonetheless some nicely observed moments of clashing cultures, especially the epic picnic in which the royals are entertained by natives and tomtoms and their introduction to a unique bit of Americana known as "the hot dog".
Ever-reliable Linney does what she can with the pivotal character of Suckley, who despite her participation is a rather earnest and downright dull character, failing to instil in this viewer the furor of the President's devotion--other than, perhaps, as just another conquest for a man whose mind and libido remains sharp even as his body fails him--but not a terribly beguiling one.
© Robert J. Lewis 2012