Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson is half a good movie. When it focuses on the quirks and manipulations of international events, it crackles and pops -- and when it turns its attention to the soap-operatic romance, it settles into a dull hum.
Based on real events, Richard Nelson's script splits its focus, though ultimately this is a tale of the behind-the-scenes Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As played by Bill Murray, FDR is someone who loves to splash around in life as much as he's allowed, both by his job as Depression-era president and by his ongoing struggle with the paralysis of polio.
The entire movie is told by Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant Roosevelt cousin who is summoned in the summer of 1939 from her home near Rhinebeck, NY, to the Roosevelt family manse at Hyde Park. FDR needs playmates to help him relax and take his mind off work; Daisy is drafted -- and winds up as someone who's there so regularly she could be mistaken for a member of FDR's staff, if not his family.
So half the movie is about the affair she and FDR launch -- and the other half is about a visit by England's King George VI (the same stuttering monarch whose life was chronicled in The King's Speech) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. It's the first time a British monarch has visited the U.S. And it comes at a moment when Great Britain must ask the U.S. for a pledge of support, as England is drawn into war by Germany.
The minutiae and wrangling that go into the visit by British royalty -- and the lingering question of whether it's appropriate to serve hot dogs to a king and queen -- is the best part of the film. The king (Samuel West) and queen (Olivia Colman) -- mostly the queen -- worry that they are being mocked, that there is some deeper, more humiliating meaning to the symbolism of the food than they are aware of.
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