Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That’s really all you need to know about
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON. If that intrigues you, go see it. If it doesn’t, give it a pass,
because that’s the draw here. I’m a huge Bill Murray fan, whether he’s doing comedy or
drama. This is one of his most challenging roles, in the sense that he’s portraying a real
person, a famous one, from living memory. If he doesn’t communicate the gravitas of a
president, if you just see Bill Murray, then the whole movie fails.
Fortunately, Bill Murray is great as FDR. In fact, he makes it look so effortless, that he
might have acted his way out of an Oscar for it. I’m sure he’ll get nominated, but he’s
going to lose to Joaquin Phoenix or Philip Seymour Hoffman for THE MASTER. Those
two roles have lots of screaming and crying and such, which voters seem to like (but
seriously, they are great). The material here doesn’t call for shouting or outrage -- just
FDR as calm, charming, avuncular, and even a little bit of a smooth operator. And
that’s exactly what Bill Murray delivers.
The story here is interesting and charming, but not too deep. It is based on the true
story of the affair FDR was having with his fifth cousin, Margaret (Laura Linney), and the
weekend Queen Elizabeth and King George VI came to FDR’s vacation home, Hyde
Park on Hudson, to plead their case for American involvement in WWII. Yes, that’s the
stuttering King and his wife from THE KING’S SPEECH, though here they are played by
Olivia Colman and Samuel West.
That makes HYDE PARK ON HUDSON kind of an unofficial sequel to THE KING’S
SPEECH. Some of the same issues come up. “Bertie” has a stutter. He’s unsure of
himself, and not sure if he’s ready to be King. Neither the King nor Queen (in fact no
King and Queen of England up to that point) had ever visited the US. They are so far
out of their comfort zone that they wonder if the Americans are mocking them. After all,
they put them in modest accommodations, don’t rearrange everything to cater to them,
and, heaven forfend, want them to eat hot dogs! Actually, much of the drama in the film
centers around whether, in fact, Bertie will eat a hot dog. It’s a symbol, you see. Of gay
sex. Or accepting America, or something.
Olivia Colman actually feels like a much more authentic Elizabeth than Helena Bonham
Carter was. And Samuel West is outstanding as George VI, every bit as good as Colin
Firth, and even more believable, since you never see him as a famous actor playing a
The other plot line revolves around FDR’s affair with his fifth cousin. Most people know
Eleanor Roosevelt (here played by Olivia Williams in a small role) was a lesbian. But
fewer know about the affair. It was revealed when Margaret died at the age of 100,
and left a box full of letters and a diary detailing the relationship, and the events of that
famous weekend when the royals came to town. The relationship between Margaret
and FDR is really the heart and soul of the film. She’s the narrator, and this is really her
story, even though some scenes are shown where she clearly wasn’t present.
It is fascinating to see behind the scenes of a presidency of that era. FDR had been
crippled by polio, and hundreds of people knew this (he never hid it from people around
him), yet it was never reported. Similarly, FDR and Eleanor had separate houses, and
carried on affairs with many women. The staff kept quiet, and the reporters looked the
Still, historical interest, and the drama over an affair and a hot dog can only take you so
far. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON is worth seeing for Bill Murray’s performance alone, but
owing to the slight plot, won’t be getting any serious awards. This was kind of middle-
of-the-road for films I saw at TIFF. It was a pleasant, but forgettable, diversion.