Hyde Park on Hudson is a gentle movie about President Franklin Roosevelt’s affair with a distant cousin, Daisy — but because war in Europe is approaching, the King and Queen of England are coming for a visit to seek America’s help in the coming conflict, and Roosevelt was an exceptionally complicated and manipulative man, there’s a lot more to the story.
A lot of threads make up the tapestry of this movie. Daisy is introduced to Roosevelt’s curious family situation, with his domineering mother, his wife Eleanor, who insists on treating the royal couple in egalitarian American fashion, and Roosevelt’s secretary and occasional lover, Missy. There is the young, stuttering King of England, who worries that he is not up to the task of winning the support of FDR and the American people, and his wife, who is sensitive to any perceived slight and a bit mystified by the challenge of being served hot dogs and dealing with commoners — and Americans, to boot — in close quarters. There is the evident split in American views of the royals, with Roosevelt’s mother and the other Hudson Valley aristocrats trying to show they belong in the same room with the king and queen, while the average people want to show there’s nothing special about them.
Bill Murray turns in a very strong performance as FDR. The movie is structured to make you admire the man notwithstanding his philandering ways, and you do — for the cheerful and uncomplaining way he accepts his inability to walk, for his skillful mediation of conflicts with his mother and wife, for his gentle, fatherly interaction with the king, and for his deft control of the visit (and the press) to achieve his ultimate goal. Laura Linney is equally good as Daisy, a woman who begins the movie with no future in Depression-era America and ends as a key part of FDR’s Hyde Park coterie. Linney believably depicts a woman who loves and worships Roosevelt and struggles before ultimately accepting her role in his life. The rest of the cast, interacting against a backdrop of constantly scurrying servants at the Hyde Park estate, also is quite good.
The pace of this movie is deliberate — Richard called it a snoozer — but Kish and I enjoyed a movie that paused now and then to focus on the gorgeous Hudson Valley scenery and to let scenes and characters develop slowly. No guns were fired, no cars or buildings were blown up, and no blood was spilled. It was quite a change from Django Unchained and other current Hollywood fare, and a very pleasant change at that.