The British have long surpassed the U.S. at making movies and TV series that act as living history lessons about their country's past, its important figures and its pivotal moments. So in a way, it makes sense that the film Hyde Park On Hudson was directed and produced by Brits, despite the fact that it's about one of America's most celebrated presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his intimate relationship with his 5th cousin Daisy and the King and Queen of England's historic visit to FDR's mother's house in upstate New York in 1939, a visit that forged the "special relationship" between America and Britain and marked America's entrance into World War II. Watch the trailer for Hyde Park On Hudson below.
Bill Murray plays FDR, with a performance sure to earn awards buzz. When not at the White House, FDR would spend time at his mother's house in upstate New York in a town called Hyde Park. Laura Linney, who really is one of the best American actresses working today, plays the shy and understated Daisy, FDR's distant cousin who lived near Hyde Park. After being invited to Hyde Park, Daisy became FDR's close confidant, spending lots of time with him whenever he was at Hyde Park, and eventually became FDR's archivist. In the film, their friendship became romantic, though not everyone agrees on that.
The film largely revolves around the weekend visit by the King and Queen of England to Hyde Park, the first time a reigning British monarch had visited the U.S., in June of 1939 when England was about to go to war with Germany and was desperate for American support. That king happened to be King George VI,, or Bertie, the stuttering king who was the subject of The King's Speech, which won the 2011 Best Picture Oscar. Samuel West plays Bertie with Olivia Colman playing Queen Elizabeth, and their sizable roles make Hyde Park On Hudson more of an ensemble piece as the two of them struggle to make sense of their hosts and the perceived meaning of gestures like having the royals eat hot dogs at an informal picnic. The film's decidedly strong cast is rounded out by Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Wilson as FDR's mother, and Elizabeth Marvel as FDR's longtime private secretary Missy, who was rumored to be one of FDR's mistresses.
In addition to having two of the same characters and taking place during the same time period, Hyde Park On Hudson reminded me of The King's Speech in a lot of ways. Both are surprisingly funny, beautifully realized, wonderfully acted films that examine the human side and the intimate relationships of great leaders. Both films are also very much about the importance of appearances, as FDR (aided by the media) hid the effects of his polio from the public while Bertie tried to project strength and confidence in the face of possible annihilation despite his stutter and the fact that his country wanted his brother as king. This theme continues through the perceptions of FDR's unusual relationship with his wife and the affairs it hid, Daisy's ability and sometimes inability to understand the man behind the presidency, and the way the royals' visit affected how they and England were perceived by average Americans, which again came down to those famous picnic wieners.
To be honest, I'm pretty surprised that Hyde Park On Hudson is receiving such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, since I saw this movie twice and both times the audiences laughed hard and seemed thoroughly charmed by this lovingly made slice of dramatized history. It's not a biopic nor is it a dense procedural like Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, but instead showcases the politics of perception and interpersonal relationships, contrasted with quieter, more intimate moments away from the media and others. I'm not sure what other critics were hoping for from Hyde Park On Hudson, but I enjoyed this film enough to see it twice, so I'd urge you to buck the critics (except for me, of course), and give Hyde Park On Hudson a chance.