Film review: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ is a dull historical affair
Wed, Jan 2, 2013 (9:42 a.m.)
There was a time when a movie starring Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have more closely resembled the recent over-the-top B-movie FDR: American Badass!, but in 2012, Murray is a Serious Actor, and so Hyde Park on Hudson is Seriously Dull, an inert exploration of the relationship between FDR and his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). It’s set around a 1939 visit to the titular location by the King and Queen of England, who are eager to drum up American support for the war against Germany.
The two storylines fit together awkwardly: Linney narrates the film, which starts out with Daisy’s first visit to FDR’s upstate New York retreat, and initially focuses on the burgeoning affair between FDR and Daisy. When King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) show up, the focus shifts, although Daisy remains an important character, and her reflections eventually tie the movie together.
That is, as far as the movie holds together at all, which is not very much. The scenes featuring the British monarchs are mostly comedic, and despite the historical significance of the circumstances, there’s virtually no political or social commentary in Hyde Park. Director Roger Michell works hard to establish pathos in the unequal romance between quiet, plain Daisy and gregarious, powerful FDR, but it mostly comes off as silly, with FDR showing her his stamp collection as code for them to get a little alone time.
None of it is quite ridiculous enough to qualify as camp, nor weighty enough to qualify as insightful drama. Instead it’s bland and forgettable, with performances that range from serviceable (Linney, Colman, Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt) to awkward (Murray can be an effective dramatic actor, but here he seems out of his depth). At least FDR: American Badass! had Nazi werewolves.