Movie review: Bill Murray excels as FDR in an uneventful 'Hyde Park on Hudson'
January 25, 2013 10:00 AM
Olivia Williams as Eleanor, Laura Linney as Daisy and Bill Murray as FDR in "Hyde Park on Hudson."
Bill Murray stars as Franklin D. Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In another year, when the field of best actor Oscar contenders wasn't so strong, Bill Murray might have been nominated for his portrayal of FDR in "Hyde Park on Hudson."
But, as usual, there were more than enough male candidates to go around, and "Hyde Park" is wan, a movie that seems even slighter now that "Lincoln" is in theaters.
In addition to spinning romantic scenarios that seem far-fetched or fanciful, it revisits royals we met first (and in more robust fashion) in "The King's Speech." In fact, the movie assumes viewers will know the basics about King George VI, his stammer that turns public speaking into torment, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth.
This queen is far less patient than the one in the Oscar-winning movie starring Colin Firth as the man who inherited the throne after his brother's abdication. Here, she lectures her husband: "Your brother never would've stood for this," and then she snaps in a private exchange, "Please stop stuttering!"
"Hyde Park" suggests that Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), a fifth or sixth cousin of the president, had more than a platonic relationship with him. The president's mother -- he is surrounded by a veritable binder full of strong women -- had asked Daisy to visit and help to take his mind off his work.
The movie is set in Hyde Park, about 90 miles north of New York, in 1939, as England is on the cusp of war with Germany and needs American support. FDR, who improbably stages a picnic for the Brits, is depicted as a patient father figure, complimenting his famous visitor and predicting, "You're going to be a very fine king."
Directed by Roger Michell, whose film credits include "Notting Hill," "Venus" and "Morning Glory," "Hyde Park on Hudson" is a pleasant enough movie with lovely period detail, bucolic surroundings and an FDR who exudes charm, quiet power and intelligence salted with humor.
"They didn't want me as their king," George VI says, to which FDR replies, "I didn't know they voted for that in England."
But "Hyde Park" suffers from an identity crisis of its own; it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The story of a historic visit by British monarchy? A glimpse into the world of a demure woman who called herself "the little mud wren"? Or a discreet examination of the tangle of Roosevelt romances, Eleanor (Olivia Williams) included?
In the end, it feels incomplete, especially because Daisy lived to nearly 100. Perhaps if Daisy weren't played by such a luminary as Ms. Linney, the movie could content itself with shifting story lines. It opens the door to presidential intimacies but barely lets us walk through it.
Daisy took the photos of FDR in his wheelchair that we are familiar with today and left a suitcase under her bed with a diary and letters to and from FDR. Both were missing pages, however, but the screenplay by Richard Nelson fills in some gaps.
He fashions a script about private lives and public images, conversations conducted behind closed doors, and hopes burnished and dashed. It's fiction based on real events, including a menu served to the royals (portrayed by Olivia Colman and Samuel West) that included hot dogs, green salad and strawberry shortcake.
When it comes to presidential impersonators, no one may ever match Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln." But Mr. Murray effortlessly does some of the finest work of his career in a movie that doesn't rise to the same elevated level.
Opens today at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.