Hyde Park on Hudson is a film that requires of its viewers the unwavering ability to ignore the incredulous conceit sitting at its forefront, that Bill Murray bears little-to-no resemblance to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who he gamely but unconvincingly mimics in Roger Michell’s (Notting Hill, Venus) daft comic drama about a state visit from the King and Queen of England to Roosevelt in New York. Just as focal, though, is Roosevelt’s uneasy romance with his distant cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney).
Bill Murray’s FDR doesn’t convince, but it’s not for a lack of trying on his part; a welcome screen presence in just about anything he makes, Murray may have a poor likeness to Roosevelt, but he’s still the most entertaining component of the film, milking the eccentricity – true or not – of his subject to fine comic effect. Hudson is arguably a film best described as “quaint”, however, in as much as its occasionally wry wit is undermined by a join-the-dots narrative, coasting on the formula of the opulent period pic, neat and technically precise but also wholly insubstantial.
The spareness of the narrative is further unaided by Linney’s trite narration, spoon-feeding the viewer subtext, psychology and emotion with a tacky enthusiasm. Furthermore, while Michell’s film clearly aims to be a spry, light-footed waltz more concerned with an overhall heft than exact details, it in that stead glosses over some of Roosevelt’s most pronounced influences, namely his wife Eleanor (played in a rare bad performance by Olivia Williams, with an accent accent that is all over the place), whose screen time is regrettably minimal.
As a broad comedy about the differences between Brits and Americans, the film fares better, ably milking King George VI’s heightened profile in light of The King’s Speech for all it’s worth, even if the King (played adequately by Samuel West in a thankless role) and Queen (played by Peep Show’s Olivia Colman with sure comic aplomb) are pretty much a one-note joke. Michell is to be commended, however, for briefly shining a light on the King’s alcoholism, even if it somewhat eschews the otherwise playful tone.
The most salient point Hyde Park on Hudson makes is that all this fussing about social niceties and etiquette between politicians – along with the ensuing media circus – is still relatable today to a frighteningly large extent; just look at the “special relationship” between the US-UK governments as it stands now. That here this revolves around whether or not the King is going to eat a hot dog at a press luncheon only reminds us of the absurdity of it all.
On the whole, it’s an undemanding sit, but the real problem isn’t the questionable casting, it’s that the drama just isn’t very involving; the disparate elements are examined in only superficial detail, and it’s Linney’s Margaret who particularly suffers from not feeling developed beyond what is necessary for the various beats to play out. As a result, it’s difficult to really care about her plight.
A regal, stately biopic about, oddly enough, the politics of eating a hot dog, that’s underwritten and poorly cast.
Hyde Park on Hudson is released in the UK on February 1st, 2013
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