Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Laura Linney as Daisy Suckley
Elizabeth Marvel as Marguerite LeHand
Samuel West King George VI
Olivia Colmon as Queen Elizabeth
Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt
Presidential sex scandals have always been a good source of comedy and drama. And British filmakers are often good at comedy and drama. So you’d think a drama with a bit of comedy about a President Franklin D. Roosevelt sex scandal that was produced by two Brits would be a home run, right? Alas, I don’t see that as being the case.
Bill Murray plays FDR. And he does a very good job at it. I always thought this would be possibly the most difficult of presidents to impersonate, given that he had an almost contradictory combination of the understanding of blue collar voters (pretty necessary for a Democrat in an era in which his party owned the South but struggled with academics and other professionals) and a blue blood heritage, but Murray does as well as you could hope for. Laura Linney also does quite well as Laura Linney, the mistress and doomed lover of Roosevelt. Unfortunately, none of the extras are particularly compelling. They’re OK, but nothing special. Hence, we have the first indication of the mixed bag that is this movie.
Hyde Park on Hudson focuses on FDR’s affair with Daisy Suckley, his cousin and confidante. To its credit, the movie does do a good job of showing us how this kind of relationship would work. We see the two falling for and not being able to get enough of each other. This is further helped by shooting techniques. It’s obvious that the crew knows how to do a romantic movie, for the pacing and camera angles capture the affection between Franklin and Daisy. Moments of humor, such as Franklin almost veering off the road when taking Daisy on a drive because he’s too caught up in the heat of the moment, are also nice touches.
We also get a good sense of what was going on at the time. World War II was taking Europe by storm, and the fear* that America will be sucked into this conflict whether it wants to be or not are on display. More to the point of this movie the supporting cast shows us how the affair between FDR and Suckley was kept secret. It’s amazing how many people it turns out knew about it.
*If this seems surprising, please understand that America wasn’t always interventionist. In fact, it rarely was before the Cold War. When FDR demanded that Adolf Hitler halt his aggression, many Americans saw this as the first sign that we were about to get into a war that was not our own.
Unfortunately, this ethical side of drama is lacking here. As noted before, many of the film’s creators are British. What does that matter? The British, like most Europeans, seem to cheerfully accept the affairs of their leaders as something they can’t control. That’s not the case here in the States. I’m not saying we should have impeached a President over a blowjob, but the fact is that we tend to frown on our leaders committing adultery. You really wouldn’t know that from this movie. Other than Daisy’s realization that Franklin may not love her based on the other mistresses that he had, not all that much is made of the obvious ethical compromises.
Hyde Park on Hudson gets the romantic tension right, but the script’s lack of understanding of moral repercussions of this affair don’t feel quite right. It isn’t a bad presidential docudrama, but it’s no Lincoln, that’s for sure.
Overall: 6 out of 10