Hyde Park on Hudson C+
Playing the iconic Franklin D. Roosvelt, the 32nd American President, offers a considerable dramatic stretch for the supremely gifted Bill Murray, better known for his comedic skills, and he almost (but not quite) pulls it off with his idiosyncratic interpretation.
It’s no secret that Murray’s career ambitions have included forays into genres and roles that are not immediately or naturally associated with him as an actor. At the very least, one can say that Murray redeems himself with an honorable performance in a tough and demanding serio-comedic part. In this respect, Murray almost succeeds in erasing his disappointing take in “The Razor’s Edge,” the terrible 1981 screen version of Somerset Maugham’s classic, previously filmed in 1946 with Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter in the major parts
But acting-wise, Roger Michell’s period piece, “Hyde Park on Hudson,” belongs to the female stars, Laura Linney and especially Olivia Williams, both of whom shine. (More about it later).
World-premiering at the Telluride Film Fest, and playing at Toronto Film Fest, “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” will be released theatrically by Focus Features in late December, amongst other serious Oscar contenders, but I doubt if this flawed film would gte any Academy attention. To put it bluntly, it’s not good or interesting enough.
For starters, it takes almost a whole reel to get involved in Michell’s historical tale aiming to offer a deep and poignant exploration a relatively unknown episode in the realtions of two power elites.
As written by Richard Nelson, the movie walks a fine line between a high-minded literary tale and a clever modernist chronicle. And those who know the work of Roger Michell will again recognize his problems in finding the drmatic locus andright tone for his often ambitious films.
It’s June 1939, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is understandably anxious and nervous in his preparation for the visit King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) for a weekend at the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York.
The event assumes historical significance as it marks the first-ever visit of a reigning British monarch to America, and it takes place during turbulent times in Europe, with a major War looming large over the proceedings.
Britain is facing imminent War with Hitler’s Germany, and the royals are desperately looking to FDR for support. As is well known, it would take more than two years and an attack on Pearl Harbor for the U.S. to join WWII.
In quite an ambitious, but not entirely successful way, the filmmakers try to balance, or rather juggle, the political and public arena with the domestic and personal one.
Soon, it becomes clear that international affairs need to be juggled with the complex (and complicated) arrangements of FDR’s domestic establishment. It is in these chapters that “Hyde Park on the Hudson assumes greater dramatic momentum, as far as audience involvement is concerned.
FDR is surrounded by powerful and eccentric women, benefiting (and suffering) from different patterns of interaction with each one of them. First there is his loyal and bright wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), then his mother Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and finally secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), all playing meaningful parts in making the royal weekend both memorable and effective.
The novelty of this tale is its original perspective, or POV. The events are largely seen from and through the eyes of Daisy (Linney), Franklin’s close neighbor, who’s ambiguously intimate with him.
Michell would like us to believe that this crucial weekend had huge impact on the formation of special relationship between the two nations, and at the same time offer some more universal observations on the mysterious and ambivalent nature of love and friendship.
Murray’s eccentric interpretation, which doesn’t begin to convey the stature and charisma of Roosevelt, is only part of a much bigger problem, At the end of this diffuse and amorphous movie, packaged as a prestige Masterpice Theater episode, you are baffled, wondering what was its purpose and who was it made for.
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