SOMETIMES historical biopics feel like directors handing in late exam essays poring over well-worn themes such as “Why Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated relationship with ladies” or “Why Abraham Lincoln had to kiss a lot of frogs to abolish slavery”.
Hyde Park On Hudson (12A)
Director: Roger Michell
Running time: 94 minutes
Somehow “Why FDR was America’s most sexually active president” came as news to me, but Hyde Park On Hudson still manages to make it feel like medicine.
Roger Michell’s film is high on chutzpah. When casting around for someone to play Franklin Delano Roosevelt, few of us would think “let’s get the guy from Ghostbusters who was so awful in The Razor’s Edge”. And yet Bill Murray isn’t bad as the polio-afflicted 32nd commander in chief. The trouble is that the rest of the film goes adrift in its choices.
Essentially it’s a movie about relationships. Shy Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of the president, lives with her aunt near FDR’s Hudson estate when she is invited to take tea with her older relative and divert him with chit chat about his stamp album. “You must have met all of them,” she says, looking at the images of world leaders in tiny gummed portraits. “Not all of them,” he corrects, as the camera pointedly lingers on Herr Hitler glowering off his Deutschland pages.
Through a combination of loneliness, naivety and manipulation by FDR, she embarks on an affair with him – or at least what appears to be some vigorous hand jobs in his charabanc – not realising that the president has a girl in every port. The trouble is that poor old Daisy is less interesting than everyone else in the film – and yet she’s the narrator – so whenever the film ditches her sad, spiritless character to focus on FDR, or his bossy wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), there’s a guilty sense of relief.
The most welcome distraction is when King George (Samuel West) and his Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) rock up, on a royal mission to persuade the president to pledge aid for Britain in a war against Nazi Germany. Bertie, like Pres, has had to overcome a physical impediment – the film takes place a few years on from The King’s Speech – and a scene where King and POTUS discuss this common ground brings the film briefly to life.
His wife, however, doesn’t fare so well. According to Hyde Park On Hudson, the young Queen Mum was inclined to be more royal than Bertie, tsking over breaches of protocol, unamused to find the wallpaper in her room depicts Britain’s defeat by America, and so horrified at being given hot dogs that she sounds as if she fears they might contain actual corgi. Even more remarkably, in this version of history, she is presented as averse to drink, upbraiding Bertie for overdoing the cocktails and snifters. Like all the women in this film, she seems a strident bore. «
• On general release from Friday