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Monday, December 10, 2012

Hyde Park on Hudson Movie Review

Behind every great man is a great woman, it's said. But in Franklin Roosevelt's case, he had more than just Eleanor in his corner. A veritable harem of womenfolk supported the President, in nearly every aspect of his life. "Hyde Park on Hudson" gives a peek into FDR's complicated world, through the eyes of his distant cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.

It's 1939, and the Roosevelts are planning to play host to the King and Queen of England at their country home in Hyde Park. Daisy (the always reliable Laura Linney), as neighbor and relative, is summoned to the house to "distract" the President from his office worries. Though confined to a wheelchair, cousin Franklin (Bill Murray) is no less imposing to meek and mousy Daisy. Still, she does the best she can with pleasant conversation and drives into the country - that is, until their friendship takes a surprisingly intimate turn.

Daisy soon finds herself absorbed into FDR's inner circle. The Hyde Park house is run by Franklin's mother (Elizabeth Wilson), arguably the most important figure in his life. His daily business is managed by his personal secretary, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), his right hand. Eleanor (Olivia Williams), we learn, lives apart from her husband in a kind of artist commune, but is key to the mystique of the Roosevelt political image.

Franklin views the buzzing hive of activity around him with a kind of detached nonchalance, but he is no less in control. Murray, in a wonderfully subtle performance, masterfully balances FDR's charm and wit with his sly, manipulative nature. Be it politics or romance, Franklin knows which buttons to push in order to get his way, as is evident in his treatment of both Daisy and King George IV.

Samuel West gives a heartbreaking performance as "Bertie", the king come-a-begging for support against Hitler. His wife, "Lizbet" (Olivia Colman) is distrustful of the President's motives behind sly jokes made at their expense, while the shy, stammering royal is won over by his avuncular attentions. Likewise, the audience is torn between admiration for FDR's genius and distaste at his manipulation of those around him.

Though the acting is top-notch, the film never quite finds it the right tone, teetering between made-for-TV drama and quaint romantic comedy. Helmed by Roger Michell ("Notting Hill"), it's as if a layer of froth is covering the "real" film - important moments are glossed over, and the darker implications of FDR's machinations are never given enough weight. This may be partly due to Jeremy Sams' treacly score, which not only seems inappropriately light, it has that hermetically-sealed feeling of being lifted directly from a "Poirot" episode. The overall effect is a bit of a let-down, hinting at something, but ultimately revealing nothing.

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