MRR Movie Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

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The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.
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Movie Review: "Hyde Park on Hudson"

-- Rating: R (brief sexuality)

Length: 94 minutes

Release Date: December 7, 2012

Directed by: Roger Michell

Genre: Biography, Drama, and Comedy

Although "Lincoln" has received the most exposure and critical acclaim among recent presidential biographies-mainly due to the tremendous portrayal of the man by Daniel Day-Lewis-"Hyde Park on Hudson" should not be dismissed. It's a different kind of film about a different kind of president. Like Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was thrust into leadership during a great war. But while Lincoln was derided for being rough and physically homely, FDR had a charming mystique and worked hard to maintain a certain public image-to the extent that he insisted his wheelchair not be visible in photographs. Bill Murray is a delight in the role, and he conveys a magnetic personality that charms audiences in the same manner as the real FDR in his time.

There are two stories at play in this film, which was written by Richard Nelson and expertly directed by Roger Michell. One deals with the supposed love affair that took place between Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin. The other involves a visit from the British King and Queen-the first time in American history that this had occurred. Like many film explorations of beloved historical figures, it gingerly delves into some aspects that may have been hidden from the general public at the time that they occurred.

Franklin had quite a number of women in his life other than his wife, Eleanor. The movie is somewhat awkward when dealing with this issue, but overall it does make one think about the relationships of more contemporary public figures. History may prove to have a different account of the real-life Daisy, which is questionable in this film. There were several other women prominent in FDR's life. His domineering mother Sarah is brilliantly acted by Elizabeth Wilson, and he has a savvy personal secretary, Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel). Each brings her own lively charm to the background of the story.

As mentioned, Murray's portrayal of Roosevelt is a treat: he brings the legend to life, and this is the main reason to see the film. His presence-with wide grin and cigarette-dominates every scene that he's in, showing a man who is trying to live with bravado despite his handicap. Modifications have been made to let him live as normally as possible. For instance, his car allows for complete control by hand. Murray acts the part of a man who doesn't feel sorry for himself. The character comes off as intelligent, humorous, confident, and very aware.

The royal couple, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) and King George VI (Samuel West), may be familiar to those who have seen "The King's Speech." While Roosevelt deals with the after-effects of polio, Bertie has issues with stuttering. He and Elizabeth are astonished by America. The President is the closest thing to royalty in the United States, but his lifestyle is quaint compared to the English monarchy. There's some comedic value in watching the marked differences in custom, protocol, and manners. The scene involving the serving of hot dogs is such a laugh, and yet the humor is not forced at all. The interactions between Americans and royalty are the most compelling for this reason, and because so much is at stake on more than just a personal level.

Director Mitchell is not a household name, but he has made compelling films for smaller venues that featured skilled actors. His repertoire includes some decent British movies such as "Venus," "Persuasion," and "Notting Hill." His direction in "Hyde Park on Hudson" allows the eccentric characters to not seem jarring, but rather mesh well with interactions that are fluid. The shining moment of the film occurs when Roosevelt is wheeled into a private office by Bertie and the two men come clean to one another as only two heads of state can.

Overall, the film is an exercise in period immersion with great attention to detail in costume and production design. The mood is set by Jeremy Sams' musical score. Although the film does not delve too far into the personalities of Roosevelt and the many women, it does convey that this was a different era, one in which it was still possible for things to be kept private. Roosevelt may be considered the first media president, but he still had the benefit of being a man behind a veiled curtain.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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