Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

A Presidential Welcome

The distributor of Hyde Park on Hudson here could have prepped this as counter-programming during this Oscar season, having release this film at the same time as Lincoln, which had amassed the most Oscar nominations, and is a biography about one of the great US Presidents. Franklin D. Roosevelt is also one of the few war presidents, and the film touches upon the King of England's visit to the USA in the late 30s to obtain the support of FDR should England have to go to war, which is an inevitable conclusion as Hitler started his campaign.

Unlike Lincoln, this story by Richard Nelson takes on a more intimate view. It's not about politicking nor about FDR's rise to the White House. Rather, and rather repeatedly so, it's stated many times that this is about seeing those in power as people, who share the same hopes and fears as do any other. Told from the viewpoint of Daisy (Laura Linney), one of FDR's many mistresses, this is a somewhat romantic tale about a president with an indomitable spirit, being paralyzed in his legs, and having to rely very much on others for his mobility.

And while Daniel Day Lewis was born to play Lincoln, the casting of Bill Murray in the role may raise a few eyebrows. Granted that Murray is rather eccentric and erratic in his choice of roles, it's quite the surprise to see him play a president, and FDR at that. There's not too much effort going into trying to make Murray resemble his character to the real McCoy, but as good an actor as any other, Murray shows why he's correct for the role. There's no hint of the comedian in his character here, keeping it rather jovial and positive on the outside, while hiding immense pressure on the inside, pressure coming from his household of many women - from his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and mother (Elizabeth Wilson), the latter who is host to the English King's visit, and that from running a country, though the latter we see less of.

If you've watched Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, then you should be fairly familiar with King George VI / Bertie (Samuel West), and his Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), with this particular milestone visit being an event before that in Hooper's movie. When excited or afraid, Bertie chokes up and begins to stammer, but unlike the esteemed, regal presence one would expect from the monarchs, the way they are portrayed here is with plenty of humanity, warts and all. Being in an unfamiliar location that's hardly the resemblance of a castle, the Royals get to be entertained by their American hosts, and on one hand trying to keep up appearances, we see more of their moods and genuine attitudes behind closed doors, which Nelson's story had humanize them to something believable, and likeable.

But the story's firmly on the romantic side of FDR's heart, wit his womanizing ways being given the spotlight. It's not that there's anything graphic or obvious about it, but it goes to show his human tendencies, and desire for companionship, that you may feel that he could have been quite the cad in expecting the women he loves to come accept one another. This takes centerstage and most of the first act, which makes it take a while to build momentum, making you wonder how much longer this tale, as narrated by Laura Linney, would have to run before the Union Jack comes into sight.

We don't get to see much of FDR's administration here, given that this is a more personal portrait and biography of the man, rather than about the series of events in his life, and that of his policies that got shaped as America entered into WWII. Perhaps there is room for those stories, but that is material for another film other than this one. This one, stripped to its bare essentials, is about a man and the loves of his life, playing host to visitors from abroad coming with specific objectives and motives, and how any professional relationship would benefit from the personal touch and firm friendships formed that would be hard bonds to break. Recommended!


YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Was this film shown with cuts in Singapore? I saw it without cuts here in Hong Kong and, frankly, found it "icky" more than truly romantic.

In particular, there's a scene around minute 25 involving FDR and Daisy outdoors in the car that I think considerably brought down the tone of the movie that -- unlike you -- I would not recommend... :S

Stefan S said...


As far as I know this film was passed clean here, under PG-13. Yeah I know which scene you're talking about, so you can imagine how the parents - there were some who brought kids - would have reacted.. I heard audible gasps of surprise and worry :-)

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