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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 14, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 50
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Easygoing Hyde Park doesn't live up to its potential

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Now showing


I'm not entirely sure of what to make of Hyde Park on Hudson. Ostensibly it is the story of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Bill Murray) June 1939 meeting with Britain's King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Olivia Colman). On the surface, it wants to get inside these events and show how the cagey Roosevelt was able to 'humanize' these monarchs for the American people - allowing him to pursue his policies of aid and support for the British even though many in the U.S. wanted nothing to do with another European war.

This story is seen through the eyes of his neighbor and fifth cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney). She comes into Roosevelt's world through his mother, Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and quickly becomes a friend and confidant he can escape with, into a realm away from world events and political upheavals. Their affair was quiet yet intimate, personal yet clandestine, the reserved Suckley documenting a great deal of it diaries discovered hidden in her house shortly after her death.

On the surface this sounds like the makings of a rich, highly involving drama, filled with informal and comic undertones and giving new light to historical events. Problem is, screenwriter and playwright Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) never find a focus to this story, never get inside the heads of the characters in a way that feels authentic. Instead, the movie treads a hazy middle ground, uncertain in its footing yet still well enough acted and composed that sitting through it is hardly a chore.

ROYAL COUPLE A HIGH POINT
What's weird, and maybe it is the undeniable connection between this story and the one told in the Academy Award-winning The King's Speech, is that the scenes between the King and Queen of England speaking honestly with one another come off the best. Their relationship feels lived-in and true, as does their uncertainty as to what the goals of this visit are and what the intentions of their host might be. Their joys become our own, their insecurities have weight, and even though they are not the focal point of the film, they make the most indelible imprint and were the characters I found myself still thinking about afterward.

But the relationship between Daisy and the president, the one that is supposed to be the focus of this saga? That never comes across as fully or as well-developed as it should be. Like Daisy, this story seems to sit in the corner the majority of the time, a wallflower given insight into a garden it can never hope to take root in. As a result, when issues arise and complications are encountered they don't have any resonance, making our storyteller's decisions feel meager and unimportant as far as the grander scale of historical events are concerned.

F.D.R. TOO OFTEN M.I.A.
Murray, playing well against type and portraying a character seemingly well outside his comfort zone, proves once again just how underrated an actor he is, his take on Roosevelt an oftentimes inspired one. But for long stretches he drops out of the picture entirely, becoming something of a frustrating afterthought just when he should be front and center. Scenes between him and West are strong, hinting at the complexities of the tightrope both men were walking but doing so with a jovial simplicity that speaks volumes. At the same time there is no connection between him and Linney, no sense of the friendly and cathartic intimacy that supposedly existed, making the fracturing and ultimate healing of their relationship hard to care about, let alone believe.

Still, there are some great moments, such as the depiction of the fabled 'hot dog' picnic where King George begins to win over the American populace by downing, of all things, a gigantic mustard-covered frankfurter. There's a great bit of back-and-forth dialogue between the King and Queen over War of 1812 pictorials depicting British sailors as monkeys, while a front-seat conversation between Daisy and Roosevelt's longtime executive secretary, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), hints at the emotional complexities the film desperately wants to cover but sadly never does.

I get in some ways what Michell and Nelson are going for. They wanted to paint a relaxed, easygoing picture of these events that combines the personal with the political, the domestic with the epic, the public with the private. But if the core relationship between Roosevelt and Daisy doesn't come to life, then nothing else matters nearly as much as it should have, dragging down the proceedings in a way that is maddeningly benign. There is a mediocre banality to Hyde Park on Hudson that's sadly disappointing, and for a story with so much inherent potential the fact it doesn't come close to achieving it is a failure I can't help but lament.

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