Bill Murray makes for an unlikely President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” based on the BBC radio play by Richard Nelson.
The film focuses on the love affair between FDR and distant cousin Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney). The majority of the film's action is set during 1939, when the King and Queen of England make the first official visit to the United States of reigning British monarchs.
With the world on the cusp of war, it's up to King George (Samuel West) to work out the terms of the relationship between England and America should war come to pass.
The film explains that FDR is under great tension, with the Great Depression under way and a likely world war waiting in the wings.
That's the excuse given for his beginning an affair with Margaret. While the film starts as if it will be about this relationship, it all but disappears in the middle of the film to focus instead on the visiting British royals and their discomfort with American ways.
Unfortunately for the film, it never manages to have a consistent through line or point of view. The scenes with FDR and “Bertie,” as George was known to friends, are the best of the film.
FDR compares his physical affliction to Bertie's stutter, and discusses how each of them is seen by their respective publics.
Ultimately, Margaret has to come to terms with her actual place in the president's life, while the aftermath of the meeting between the king and president is left for the notes at the film's conclusion.
The wives of both of the powerful men are given little space, but both performances are well-done; Olivia Williams plays Eleanor Roosevelt, while Olivia Colman is Queen Elizabeth.
The screenplay never quite convinces us of the importance of the events; meanwhile Murray, though nicely underplaying FDR, never manages to quite make the audience forget he's Bill Murray.
Rather than the charismatic leader with nothing to fear but fear itself, Murray's FDR is portrayed more as an old letch with a demanding job. Maybe the movie's trying to make a point about perceptions and realities, but it doesn't hit the point enough to get it home.
There are some nice moments in what is ultimately a meandering film, as “Hyde Park on Hudson” doesn't do its principal characters the justice of a fully-fledged portrait.
— Matthew Price