HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, 2012
Director: Roger Michell
Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Samuel West, Blake Ritson, Tim Beckmann
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The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.
Is there a movie this year which wastes a fantastic performance as thoroughly and thoughtlessly as "Hyde Park on Hudson?" I'm wracking my brain and I honestly can't think of one.
On the surface it seems like it should be an excellent story for an excellent role. It's the 1930s and America is still recovering from the Great Depression. War, however, is looming greater and greater in Europe and threatens to engulf the whole world. The president (Bill Murray) knows he's got to do something about it and he knows the American people don't want him to. He also wants to try and figure out how to have an affair with his cousin Margaret (Laura Linney) without giving up any of the other women in his life including his various mistresses, his wife (Olivia Williams) and his mother (Elizabeth Wilson).
If those two elements sound extremely incongruous, that's pretty much what watching "Hyde Park on Hudson" feels like. It doesn't help that it's narrated continuously, monotonously by the simpering Margaret who may be the worst female character ever put on screen. Na´ve and simple, she is drawn almost unknowingly into an affair with FDR and then spends the rest of the film casting the world events going around her in the shadow of that affair. Yes, everyone does tend to think the world revolves around them, but to see it on screen this way is breathtaking. And not in a good way.
The idea is obvious enough to cast FDR as a real, fallible human being who is nevertheless trying to do the right thing by the country and the world even if he is a greedy shit in his personal matters.
Well aware of the isolationism gripping America and in desperate straits the British government has dispatched King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to treat with FDR and find out if there is any possibility of aid during the Fourth of July week at FDR's New York home, "Hyde Park on Hudson."
And when that actually happens, "Hyde Park" comes into sharp life. Murray has FDR absolutely nailed. The accent waivers, but the mannerisms and sparkle and heart are absolutely true. The only one on film who can really hold a candle to him is West and the scenes the King and President share really are the heart of the film.
Unfortunately the film thinks that heart is Margaret who is so terribly mischaracterized it's impossible to feel anything for her even when she is being terribly wronged.
And that's because there are two stories going on here. One about an idiosyncratic President and the King of England courting each other and throwing off the expectations of the world as they try figure out if they can trust one another. And one is about President and his mistress. Only one of these stories is interesting, and however much director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") would like these two stories to cross-pollinate and illuminate one another, they do not.
Which is doubly unfortunate as Murray gives one of his best performances ever, and that is saying something as he has become the best actor out of the original Saturday Night Live cast. But it's so hard to notice wrapped up in something so bland. It makes you wonder which is worse, to put together something truly bad, or to have a shot at making something truly good and then miss so wide.