15-21st February; DCA
Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson centres on a weekend in 1939 when King George VI and the Queen travelled to America (the first trip made by British monarchs to the U.S.) to visit President Franklin D. Roosevelt, residing at his mother’s upstate New York home. Against this background, the developing intimate relationship between Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his fifth cousin, Margaret Suckley, better known as Daisy (Laura Linney) is highlighted and explored.
The focus on this burgeoning relationship is an intimate insight into a man normally so controlling of his public image. The film provides further exploration of what he was like as a man, rather than as a President. Hyde Park on Hudson meanders along documenting the relationship between Roosevelt and Daisy, as well as Roosevelt’s friendships with the other women in his life (his wife, his secretary, and his mother) before finally focusing on the visit from the King and Queen. The meeting with the nervous new monarchs on the eve of Britain entering World War Two, feels as though it should be the focus of the film. This section also contains the film’s finer moments: a discussion between the two leaders concerning the pressures of their work, the sharing of stories and jokes relating to their unique positions.
Richard Nelson, the screenwriter, chose to merge the film’s two storylines together as he believed Daisy to have a unique perspective on history. However, Hyde Park on Hudson feels unbalanced, as though neither story has been allowed to develop fully The monarch’s visit lacks historical significance and instead of a tense, political meeting of minds, Michell depicts the whole weekend as a comedy of manners: the Americans’ relaxed ways versus the stiff upper lips of the English.
Samuel West and Olivia Coleman are perfect in their portrayal of Bertie and Elizabeth. Coleman’s Elizabeth is much feistier and perhaps more realistic than Helena Bonham Carter’s performance in the same role in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (2010), and West’s Bertie conveys fully his trepidation about becoming King. Bill Murray as President Roosevelt is as charming and mischievous as he always is but he could have done much more had he been given the opportunity. Whilst we do witness interesting and intimate moments between the two great leaders, little is done to to convey Roosevelt’s presidential abilities or indeed even his own thoughts. We are presented with a man of great power having a string of relationships with various women yet no notion of how he really feels about them or if he carries any guilt over his actions.
Comparisons to The King’s Speech are not unjust due to the film’s very British humour yet Hyde Park on Hudson lacks the sense of importance and depth of its counterpart; instead Michell’s film comes across akin to an episode of Downton Abbey. There are certain moments throughout which indicate that Hyde Park on Hudson could have been a better film: the private meeting between Bertie and Roosevelt, the hot dog debacle, and the awkwardness between the two nationalities. The confusion over the plot’s focus, whether Roosevelt’s love interests or America’s relationship with Britain, is what makes Hyde Park on Hudson such a puzzling film to watch.