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Hyde Park on Hudson

December 25, 2012
Hyde Park on Hudson

These days, with the New Deal under more direct, sustained attack than ever before what we really need is for Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg to remake Sunrise at Campobello with a tad more realism and a heavier emphasis on how Franklin Roosevelt’s patrician background led into his understanding of the need for social justice.  Instead we get Hyde Park on Hudson.

The movie seems built to exploit a cache of letters and journals found after the death of Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of the president (Bill Murray), detailing the start of their more intimate relationship, with particular emphasis on the visit of King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Consort Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) in June of 1939 to the president’s Duchess County retreat: the estate of his mother (Elizabeth Wilson).  It makes the occasional stab towards broader meaning with the president consoling the young king over his insecurities about his role as leader and the coming war with Germany, but for the most part it’s concerned with the farce of Roosevelt’s dalliances and reminders that Eleanor (Olivia Williams) hung around with “she-men”.

There’s a lot of hype around Murray’s performance; I don’t see it.  He’s not bad, but it feels like people are still impressed that the guy from Caddyshack and Ghostbusters is taking a dramatic role.  Linney is decent herself, but it’s also nothing exceptional.  Fate is crueler to West and Colman; he is no Colin Firth, and she is no Helena Bonham Carter.  It may be an unfair comparison, but there it is: another reason the choice of this particular Roosevelt story was so poorly thought-out.

Besides all that, the movie is stuck in two modes: numbingly boring and uncomfortably awkward.  Yes, the point is about how the visit was tense but led to a breakthrough and the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, but scene after tense and embarrassing scene just isn’t all that interesting. The script makes a big deal of comparing the two men’s respective disabilities — a stammer and partial paralysis thought to be caused by polio — and insisting through Roosevelt that “[our flaws] aren’t what [the people] are looking to find when they look to us.” And yet the rest of the script is nothing else but an exhaustive catalogue of flaws and armor-chinks. There is nothing here to make me think Roosevelt is anything other than a smirking, womanizing drunk who happened to run the country for a few years.

The time is right for a movie about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his expansive life and career should provide plenty of material.  It’s just a shame that screenwriter Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell can’t seem to find anything but gossip and farce to talk about.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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