Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie with Abe: Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson
Directed by Roger Michell
Released December 7, 2012

This film’s title should immediately conjure up an image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt relaxing in his home away from Washington during his presidency. “Hyde Park on Hudson” follows the mold of two types of films recently seen in plenty. The first is the biopic of a historical figure, such as “Lincoln” or “Hitchcock,” segmented down to just one important brief period of time, and the second is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter between an everyday person and a celebrity, so magical for such a short while, as seen in “Me and Orson Welles” and “My Week with Marilyn.”

Laura Linney introduces the film as Daisy, the sixth cousin of FDR, who is summoned to his Hyde Park home to cheer him up. As time progresses, Daisy and FDR become closer, and she spends much time around him. When Daisy finds herself out in the cold during a 1939 visit to Hyde Park by the King and Queen of England, she becomes utterly irrelevant to her own story, disappearing for a while as the film finds its most fascinating moments. Ultimately, Daisy returns to close the chapter of her relationship with FDR, but the film is at its peak without her.

Bill Murray is an odd choice, objectively, to play FDR. Yet his performance is surprisingly natural, delivered mostly from a seated position and demonstrating a warm, welcoming nature, and imbuing FDR with a wonderful sense of humor that helps to keep the film light and accessible. Most impressive, however, is the boldness of the film to portray King George VI, better known as Bertie, and his wife Queen Elizabeth, both showcased so memorably in the Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” two years ago. Samuel West is charming as the nervous Bertie, who forms a delightful bond with the President, and Olivia Colman is magnificent as Elizabeth, who has no issue emphasizing her distaste with American culture. The two enliven the film during their trip to Hyde Park, and, for the duration of their stay, the film takes on a different, and far more appealing, identity.

While the film’s narrator may seem incorrect for its given story, its title is, and Hyde Park is used to great effect as its setting. Two members of FDR’s entourage stand out – 91-year-old actress Elizabeth Wilson in a humorous small role as FDR’s endearing but controlling mother and Elizabeth Marvel as Marguerite LeHand, his secretary and trusted adviser. Watching the workings of the Presidential home at Hyde Park is like a far less stressful version of “Downton Abbey,” intriguing in its machinations but hardly as organized as should be the case for the leader of a nation. This is a film with a lackluster beginning and end but an extremely strong middle, more effective in its showcase of the relationship between high-level political leaders than as a characterization of FDR and his close acquaintance.


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