Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

The king of the quirky movie, Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Lost in Translation), steps into new territory with Hyde Park on Hudson, a historic comedy drama about US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his very special relationships. Set in 1939 in the midst of America’s economic depression and with war looming in Europe, the film gives an insight into the life of America’s 32nd President.

Based on letters discovered following the death of FDR’s fifth cousin, Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley (Laura Linney), the film explores Roosevelt’s personal life against the backdrop of the first ever visit to the USA from a reigning British monarch.

Writer Richard Nelson’s well-rounded script weaves the private and domestic with the public and international aspects of FDR’s tenure exceptionally well, and Roger Michell’s (Morning Glory, Venus) direction complements the screenplay’s pace and rich nostalgic nature of the recovered correspondence.

Set in FDR’s family home, Hyde Park, we’re introduced to an affable, charismatic and intelligent politician through the eyes of distant cousin Daisy, who’s invited to visit the incumbent President at the behest of his mother, Mrs. Roosevelt (Elizabeth Williams).

In a departure of previous roles, Murray drops his trademark cynicism and is a joy to watch as the likeable FDR in his first biopic. Linney’s (Mystic River, The Truman Show) performance as Daisy is equally engaging as the president’s special confidant.

With WWII looming, the UK considers America’s involvement a necessity and, in an attempt to seek assistance, King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visit the USA on a diplomatic mission. Against the wishes of his own cabinet FDR invites the young Royals to Hyde Park for the weekend.

The tempo of the film changes a little with the arrival of the King and Queen and the fish-out-of water interplay is more overtly comic than previous scenes. West (Van Helsing, Notting Hill) and Colman (Tyrannosaur, Hot Fuzz) are fabulous as the newly-crowned monarchs, voicing their own concerns and conflicts brilliantly at this precarious time in the thawing of Anglo-American relations.

Elizabeth Williams (The Adamms Family, The Birds) is central to the comings and goings at Hyde Park. Much can be read into FDR’s relationship with the powerful matriarch that could explain the role of the other women in his life, including his long suffering secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and estranged wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). Williams (An Education, The Sixth Sense) portrays FDR’s direct and discourteous spouse with glee and Marvel (Lincoln, True Grit) is excellent as the compliant and forgiving employee.

Hyde Park on Hudson is a tale of private dalliances, political manoeuvring and America’s coming of age. FDR may have been a great politician, but his manipulative nature and questionable morality pervades every part of his life, which is not without its consequences. Taken from a uniquely personal view, Hyde Park on Hudson tells the story which has national and global consequences for the USA and the world.