There’s a genuinely warm, heartfelt relationship in “Hyde Park on Hudson.”
Unfortunately, it’s not the one we’re supposed to care about.
“Hyde Park” is told from the perspective of Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney), the fifth or sixth cousin, “depending on how you count,” of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray). And it’s the story of their illicit affair, centered around a tumultuous visit by England’s King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman).
But Murray has far more chemistry with West than with Linney, and whenever the film gets bogged down in Daisy’s life, you’ll start to wonder, “Hey, what’s going on with FDR and the king?”
Roosevelt’s domineering mother (Elizabeth Wilson) reaches out to Daisy in hopes she can help take the president’s mind off his work during one of his frequent trips to the family estate in Hyde Park, N.Y.
And, boy, does she! Just (hopefully) not in the way Mrs. Roosevelt intended.
Daisy admits she likely wasn’t the first call Mrs. Roosevelt made — maybe not even the 10th — but she answered the phone. And even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, Daisy and Franklin become fast friends, visiting whenever the president is in town.
There’s a series of stunning shots of Franklin driving Miss Daisy through the countryside and, eventually, through a field of wildflowers — a view he’d been saving until he could clumsily solicit some, well, “hands on” relief from his burdens.
After that uncomfortableness, Daisy narrates, “I knew that we were now not just fifth cousins but very good friends.”
It takes a very special actor to remain likable after receiving a happy handshake from a relative, however distant. Fortunately, Murray is up to the task.
With his pince-nez and cigarette holder, drinking “sinus medicine” from a flask and hiding out from his mother, Murray makes for a bemused, charismatic Roosevelt.
But “Hyde Park” doesn’t really come alive until the arrival of the royals, Bertie and Elizabeth, last seen in the more dignified “The King’s Speech.”
This Elizabeth is perpetually horrified, as though she just stepped in something unpleasant. She’s aghast at the thought of the picnic looming on their itinerary and rarely stops searching for a sinister meaning behind the inclusion of hot dogs on the menu.
Bertie has his moments of concern as well, especially while pretending to be amused by the estate’s framed cartoons mocking British soldiers during the War of 1812.
And they’re both puzzled by an embassy official’s (Andrew Havill) briefing informing them that, when he’s not in the White House, the president lives in his mother’s house while the first lady (Olivia Williams) “lives in another house. Hers. Which she shares with other women. Who make furniture. …
They’re couples. They’re the sort who like each other.”
The royals have made the overnight visit — the first American voyage by a British king — to appeal to Roosevelt for aid in the looming war.
And the president soon takes Bertie under his wing, laughing at his jokes and dispatching fatherly advice. They find common ground in their afflictions — the president’s legs, the king’s stammer — and before long, they’re confiding their insecurities and joking about their wives.
It’s all quite charming. It just doesn’t feel particularly real.
Neither, though, does Daisy’s relationship with Roosevelt. (And don’t bother Googling the historical accuracy of “Hyde Park.” You’ll only be disappointed.)
As fine an actress as Linney is, it’s just hard to care whether she’s happy sleeping with her married cousin.
Those scenes are as bumpy as the ride to Elizabeth’s date with hot dog destiny in which the royals are jostled about in the back seat of Roosevelt’s convertible thanks to the president’s wild driving.
It’s another excuse for the stiflingly proper Elizabeth to seem genuinely put out.
Again, it’s funny. But if she thinks that ride was uncomfortable, it could have been so much worse.
The president could have taken her to see the wildflowers.
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Christopher Lawrence is the film critic for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org