Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson suffers from being a single film that operates as if it were three separate stories built around a single historical event. Or rather, the audience is made to slog through having their affinities for the characters in Michell's movie abused as the narrative unpredictably flits from one character's perspective to another and then back again in a messy and incoherent fashion, abandoning Daisy (Laura Linney), the film's established protagonist, for so long that it's easy to forget that it's her story that's being relayed. Daisy's modeled after Margaret Suckley, a distant relation of President Franklin Roosevelt, who had a love affair with FDR that went undiscovered until after her death.
The historical event in question is the 1939 private summit between King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (the always great Olivia Colman) with FDR (Bill Murray) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) at President Roosevelt's mother's (Elizabeth Wilson) estate in Hyde Park, New York. The royals are there to ask for Roosevelt's support against the axis powers in war effort. Each side knows the purpose of their assembly and, yet, the dictates of etiquette force a calculated dance around the issue. The meeting presents many interesting possibilities and, on its own, may have made for a fine enough film; the obvious, but accentuated differences between American and English cultural mores constitute most of the better observations that the film has to offer.
Were this the only ambition of Hyde Park on Hudson, to move back and forth between each parties ruffled sensibilities as each endures the other for a higher purpose, it just might have worked as a picture. Instead, the filmmakers seem to think that they can have its cake and eat it, too, attempting to have the film filtered through Daisy's recollections before jumping into sections that not only don't involve her, but also depict events that she couldn't possibly have witnessed. The effect of these departures is that, when the story does finally slam back to acknowledging Daisy as its teller, the viewer no longer identifies enough with her to care about the major conflict that develops when she learns an uneasy truth about her president/lover.
Hyde Park on Hudson is an undeniably weirdly structured film. Everything about it suggests that Bill Murray as FDR is meant to be the focal point of the story, but there's little access to that character, even when the script forces the film to embrace what feels like Roosevelt's objective viewpoint. It operates as a love story, but with little apparent spark between Murray and Linney, not that it's their fault; the problems are all present in the script, not the performances. Beyond that, the pacing is unhurried to the degree that, although it's barely over 90 minutes, it's a movie that ends up feeling like it has an overly padded running time. Even though there are several sequences that do work (the interactions between King George and Queen Elizabeth, in particular), it's hard to imagine anyone becoming too enthusiastic over this clumsily told, flat, and unromantic film.
Hyde Park on Hudson opens at the Regal Fox Tower on Friday, December 14th. More info available here.
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