December 7, 2012



To address the very specific elephant in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON‘s room:  it’s no King’s Speech.  It’s hard to avoid the comparison, because the two movies have a clear overlap, Hyde Park being the story of the 1939 visit King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (aka Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, but played here by Samuel West and Olivia Colman) paid to Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) in order to strengthen the bonds between England and the US and enlist America’s help in the coming war.  We’re back with Bertie’s stammer and his inferiority complex that kicks in when his father and brother are mentioned, and we feel like telling him:  You’re going to be fine.  Trust us, we know.

Bill Murray doesn’t attempt an FDR imitation, probably wisely, and simply does  a shrewd, sly job of playing Roosevelt as an amiable schemer, a man whose charm almost hides the fact that he always gets exactly what he wants (there’s more than a little Bill Clinton in this Roosevelt), and when Roger Michell’s film, written by Richard Nelson (and based on his play), sticks with the story of that weekend and the way each world leader gradually bonds with the other, it’s often marvelous.  Unfortunately, that world-altering moment has to share the stage with the movie’s main story, which is the relationship between FDR and his “fifth or sixth” cousin Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), who finds herself part of what she comes to learn is a modest, matter-of-fact harem around FDR.  There’s Eleanor (Olivia Williams, too beautiful and low-key for the role despite some prosthetic teeth), who is there for Franklin as a presidential partner, but who has her own private life with what FDR calls her “she-men” back in Washington.  There’s also Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), as well as talk about others, including Dorothy Schiff, publisher of the pre-Murdoch NY Post, providing the President with a rotating circle of mistresses. Margaret is the most innocent of the group, a grown woman who doesn’t smoke or drink (or, one imagines, know much of sex), who naively believes she has a uniquely intimate relationship with the President, and is heartbroken to find out she’s just one of a pool.

This story, to put it bluntly, is none too interesting, despite the skill with which Linney and Murray play their scenes together.  Whenever the movie cuts from the far more fascinating saga of the King and the President to the two of them, one wishes for a DVR remote to hit fast-forward.  The FDR and Bertie show is the main event, and even though that story, too, could be more subtly handled –it’s jarring, after King’s Speech, to see the Queen depicted as something of a snobbish prig, especially when she takes what to our ears is an unforgivable jab at his stutter–it’s always entertaining, and all concerned do a good job of making clear that the world will change because of the friendship between these two men, and that small moments like the King’s willingness to sample a hot dog can have large implications.

Even when the movie is spinning its wheels in the Margaret Suckley story, it’s very smoothly made,  Michell gave us Notting Hill and Morning Glory, among others, and he knows how to keep a costume drama on the move, even though most of it is set in and around the President’s Hyde Park summer home.  The  production design by Simon Bowles feels unobtrusively right, and Nicolas Gaster’s editing keeps everything to a tight 95 minutes.

Hyde Park on Hudson doesn’t feel like a major Oscar title (although Murray could be in the running for Actor).  It’s too slight, and doesn’t deliver anything like the emotional wallop of King’s Speech.  It’s more like a sketch than a fully satisfying drama.  In Murray’s performance, though, and in the sequences where the movie forsakes the boudoir for the study, it delivers a very enjoyable footnote to history.


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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."