Sunday, 21 October 2012

LFF: Hyde Park on Hudson Review

Director: Roger Michell

Writer: Richard Nelson

Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Elizabeth Wilson

Plot: Margaret Suckley (Linney) has never much thought about her distant relation to President Franklin D. Roosevelt until one afternoon he requests her presence. FDR tells her she helps him relax and continues to invite her over to Hyde Park on Hudson. Soon the two become great friends but certain tension arise during the first American visit of Monarchs – King George VI (West) and Queen Elizabeth (Colman).

Many of the American Presidents had fantastically rich stories – public or private – that lend themselves well to TV, Film and books. Franklin D. Roosevelt was one such Commander in Chief whose personal life interested many people. His strive alone (getting into office even with a paralyzing form of polio) warrants a full biopic though Hyde Park on Hudson is more focused on his adulterous alter-ego and one pivotal weekend with the Royals.  

Only on few occasions in the film is FDR seen as cruel for his wayward manner with women. Instead, Bill Murray’s portrayal of the 32nd President demonstrates charm, wit and kindness. With alternate casting this persona may not have been as noticeable as the affair angle of Roosevelt’s life was recurrent and would certainly sully the man’s image. Murray’s innate allure enables the film to remain jovial and tread past the sinful implications of FDR’s secret life.

It shares many similarities with The King’s Speech; a happy air to the film, a drama under the surface and the presence of “Bertie” and Queen Elizabeth. In some ways this comparison damages the film’s credibility as it becomes a dreary side-piece to Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winner. Samuel West and Olivia Colman are terrific as King and Queen but you cannot help but think of them in regard to Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. They do bring a distinct edge to their portrayals though are all too often caricaturised as posh buffoons. West’s Bertie stands out only when he is the company of Roosevelt; these are the scenes where the film has an original pull and spark.

Too much attention is set on Laura Linney’s Margaret Suckely (though with it being inspired by Suckley’s letters and diary entries it’s understandable) and her interaction with Roosevelt which has very little chemistry or drama. Murray could have easily carried this film on his own, centred only on FDR. What spoils the film is having him surrounded by lacklustre familial and staff characters; only the monarchs prove fascinating company.

Whereas Roger Michell has an interesting CV that flaunts his ability to present memorable relationships (Notting Hill, Enduring Love and Venus), his last effort (Morning Glory) and Hyde Park on Hudson see him losing his touch. Even with a short run-time, it boils down to Murray and the pleasing soundtrack as the only single two elements keeping the audience entertained.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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