Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson” often feels like two separate movies. One film is about Franklin Roosevelt’s love affair with his sixth cousin. The other is about King George VI and his first visit to the United States. The problem is that “Hyde Park on Hudson” can never decide which of these stories is supposed to be the A plot and which is the B plot. The narrative as a whole thus suffers with neither storyline meeting its full potential. The fact that the film centers on several fascinating real-life individuals only makes the results more disappointing.
Bill Murray plays Presentiment Roosevelt as a womanizing, yet charismatic, charmer that’s hard not to like. Out of the blue, FDR decides to call up his distant cousin Daisy, played by Laura Linney. Through poor execution and a lack of character development, Roosevelt and Daisy decide to engage in an intimate relationship. The film never really explains what brings on this attraction. One minute Daisy is looking at FDR’s stamp collection. In the next scene, he’s taking her to a secret love nest. That must have been one arousing stamp collection.
Around this same time, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrive in America to plead for support when World War II breaks out. While Samuel West and Olivia Colman do a fine job as the royal couple, they have the misfortune of following up Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter’s brilliant portrayals in “The King’s Speech.” Unlike “The King’s Speech,” “Hyde Park on Hudson” rarely has anything of interest to say about Bertie and Elizabeth. A majority of their scenes consist of tedious complaining as they try to decide whether or not it’s appropriate for King George to eat a hotdog. That’s not exactly what you call exhilarating cinema.
Murray is a gifted, unique talent that has really broadened his range in recent years. Regrettably, he’s unconvincing here as FDR. Although the performance may not be bad, you never actually believe him in the role. His depiction feels overly animated, better suited for a caricature that you’d see on a “Saturday Night Live” skit. When compared to something like Daniel Day Lewis’ transcendent portrayal as Abraham Lincoln, Murray as FDR is essentially forgettable. Linney is additionally unmemorable as Daisy, who bombards us with consistently dull narration.
The major downfall of “Hyde Park on Hudson” is its failure to provide any insight into the lives or relationships of these people. The film presents a number of potentially interesting dynamics, including FDR and Daisy, FDR and King George, and King George and Queen Elizabeth. But Richard Nelson’s screenplay is so under researched that we walk away with an unfulfilled sensation. It’s missing any honest conversations or challenging ideas regarding the characters. In a year of several great political movies, “Hyde Park on Hudson” doesn’t get nearly enough Electoral College votes to make the cut.