Hyde Park on Hudson starts out on a solid premise- an exploration of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s affair with his distant cousin Daisy Suckley, during the royal visit to America by King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth in 1939. However, what sounds like a good idea on paper is not necessarily successful on the silver screen.
Daisy Suckley is Roosevelt’s sixth cousin, and is invited to spend time with the stressed president in the lead-up to a visit to his family’s estate, Hyde Park on Hudson, in 1939 by the King and Queen of England. The film flits between the affair of Daisy and the president, and the president’s relationship with the royals. It explores the tensions and cultural differences between the British and Americans, and the camaraderie on show between the King and president. However, the links and studies of all these issues are tenuous and make the film seem flighty and shallow.
Daisy is a wholly flat character, and it is simply amazing that a film has been able to be created with her as the protagonist. The connection between her and Roosevelt seems non-existent and she is not enough part of the royal visit to paint a thorough picture of either that or her affair. The film would have been better served to focus on Roosevelt and King George VI (Bertie’s) budding friendship, developed over their shared experiences of disabilities- Roosevelt’s crippled legs and Bertie’s stutter. Their sweet solidarity is barely explored in any depth, and it would have been a far greater film had they focused on this, rather than the dull affair.
The film often resorts to stereotypes of its British and American characters, only heightening the emptiness one feels when watching. The Queen of England is pretentious, and thoroughly appalled when she discovers the royals are to be served hot dogs at a picnic. Rather than accepting it as a gesture of Americana, she instead takes offence and believes the Americans are trying to humiliate her and her husband. Bertie is actually thoroughly likeable, and while he seems like a shy and uptight bore he has many redeeming qualities, and his ability to relax and enjoy the companionship of Franklin makes him a far more likeable character- whilst heightening the audience’s disdain for his snobby wife’s reactions.
Daisy, while well played by Laura Linney, is boring. She says little, and adds almost nothing to the film. The purpose of the film is perhaps to inject shock into the audience at Roosevelt’s misdemeanours in marriage, but Eleanor Roosevelt’s reactions are so wholly non-existent that even his affairs don’t even seem like a concern.
Bill Murray’s portrayal of Roosevelt is rather empty and shallow and does neither Murray himself, nor the president any justice. He comes across as a bullish American cad, who whilst obviously very smart and capable, doesn’t possess as much of a presence as an American president should.
Eleanor comes across as a typically clichéd American woman- stronger and more independent than her British counterpart, she asks the Queen if she can call her Elizabeth. Her presence served to only further irritate, and claims of her homosexuality were clearly intended merely to add shock value.
And finally, the hot-dogs. Throughout the entire film the hot-dogs are consistently, insistently referred to. The royals take great offence at the possibility of being served hot-dogs, and it is established as a crux of the film. Hot-dogs cannot serve as the centre of a film, it is not workable and places it into the sphere of satire.
While watchable, and for the most part enjoyable, this film is not as strong a historical film as The King’s Speech or Lincoln. It is best placed in the realms of costume dramas and romantic comedies- light weight and fun, and better off saved for DVD.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Directed by: Roger Michell
Written by: Richard Nelson
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams.
Released by: Universal Pictures