Hyde Park on Hudson gives us a glimpse of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) life during period of time in 1939. Those naïve about his personal history may be taken aback by what the focus of the film is on, his extramarital affairs.
Many know that FDR was stricken with polio and could not walk very well. The photographs from his life and his presidency show him sitting down, not giving away the handicap he dealt with on a daily basis. This handicap, however, did not stop him from being the Bill Clinton of his time.
The film is set in FDR’s family home, Hyde Park, which is located in Hyde Park, New York on the Hudson River Valley. FDR often retreated there to conduct his presidential business while his mother still ruled the roost around the house.
The story starts out with a call to a distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley (Laura Linney), who is beckoned to Hyde Park on Hudson to give the President (Bill Murray) some stress relief and companionship. Though the relationship starts awkwardly, the bond between the two grows into something more.
In the wings are FDR’s personal secretary, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and his hovering mother (Elizabeth Wilson). On the outskirts of this life is FDR’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), who is portrayed as a direct, brash woman and is also a lesbian. She lives apart from her husband and the home.
Considering the time period, the other major focus of the film is the first visit to the U.S. by the King George VI “Bertie” (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) of England. They come to see the President to ask for help during World War II.
While the film deals with serious subjects and significant points in U.S. history, the film is always slightly light-hearted and with a comedic tone. In other words, this is not Lincoln.
Bill Murray was not cast to add comedy to the film. He totally transforms himself into FDR through his voice and moving his upper body. The audience will hopefully forget he is Bill Murray after the first few minutes of him onscreen. Olivia Williams very much came on screen as Eleanor Roosevelt with no excuses and no niceties. Her interactions with Queen Elizabeth have to be the highlight of the film.
Samuel West portrays King George VI as the stuttering Bertie many will already know from The King’s Speech. He is not very assertive and does not know how to go about asking the President to help his country. Olivia Colman comes across as an inquisitive, proper English lady who just does not know what to make of a President who still lives in his mother’s house. She also provides constant comic relief along with West as they interact with Bill Murray’s FDR, his staff, and his family.
Other actors like Laura Linney and Elizabeth Marvel have a bit more leeway in how their characters could act, seeing as most people will know very little about the people historically. Laura Linney’s Daisy narrates the film at different times with the film often taking her perspective, although she is not privy to all things going on at Hyde Park on Hudson.
The relationship between FDR and Daisy is not something that is expected, at least to the lengths it is portrayed in the film. From a personal point of view, I felt that one of the first looks at their intimacy is not necessary and is a bit uncomfortable to watch. One can argue that it shows that FDR is still very much a functioning man despite his handicap, and therefore shows that he has the capacity to successfully have every affair he has ever rumored to have had. Many will be saying “Ew” to themselves just because Daisy is a cousin, but she is a distant relation. Their relationship is a little odd, and they both do not seem to know how Daisy to what extent she should be included in official events. The film takes a turn when Daisy learns she is not the only female companion in FDR’s life.
Hyde Park on Hudson takes a look at the personal life of a well-known President during a short period of time. This is just not the personal life many of us non-history buffs know about and maybe that is the reason this film was made. It comes as a surprise and there are a couple of scenes that earn the R rating for the film. Overall, the film has some great performances, especially Bill Murray’s, and is an enjoyable look at FDR and his political and personal history in 1939.
I give Hyde Park on Hudson 3 “hot dogs” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek