I probably spend too much time here on hoopla.nu trying to guess the motives of studio executives, but it’s hard when you see cinematic trends grow before your eyes. Hyde Park on Hudson is a film that feels like it was greenlit in the wake of the successes of The Queen and The King’s Speech. Here we have an historical drama that attempts to humanise past world leaders with a healthy dose of comedy.
Bill Murray plays US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who for some undisclosed reason seeks out the company of his super-distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) at the beginning of the film. It’s important that I stress the ‘distant’ part, since a love affair quickly blossoms between the two. Around about the same time, King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) are visiting the president’s country estate, in an attempt to garner support for the incoming World War II.
Seeing someone portray King George so soon after Colin Firth’s Oscar win is just plain weird. West is fantastic in the role, but it’s impossible to put Firth’s performance out of your mind when watching him. This, however, is the least of the film’s worries. The main problem is the lack of focus. For a story ostensibly told through Daisy’s eyes, it’s strange how little of this important weekend she was present for. As you would expect, there are scenes that feature only FDR and King George, and others where their respective wives and dignitaries are also present, but Daisy is very much on the outer.
When it comes to the important meeting of the minds, Hyde Park on Hudson skips the serious stuff and goes straight to comedy. I understand that this was never intended to be a dreary exercise in history, but the film really is a comedy first and a drama second. The script gets a lot of mileage out of the supposed clash of cultures (the royals expecting farmers to wave at them, everyone bored to tears during a Native American ritual dance) and it really seems to make a mockery out of this particular moment in history.
Murray is particularly good as FDR, even managing to disguise his usual speaking voice. In fact, if you were just going on the sound of his voice, you probably wouldn’t realise it was him. Linney always puts in a good performance, but the screenplay really doesn’t do justice to the character of Daisy. I found their whole relationship a bit icky, to be honest, and didn’t really see its relevance to the rest of the film.
Hyde Park on Hudson is quite often amusing and never gets dull, but it is such a hodgepodge of half-finished ideas that the experience is far from satisfying.Rating: