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Monday, 14 January 2013 23:32

'Hyde Park on the Hudson' misses the mark

'Hyde Park on the Hudson' misses the mark
Written by Martha K. Baker
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About this Media...

  • Director: Roger Michell
  • Dates: Opens December 14, 2012

Maybe if "Hyde Park on Hudson" had stuck with one main story, it would have succeeded, but in trying to tell two stories, and not telling either with clarity or purpose, the film becomes seriously flawed, although not less worthy of discussion as a film and history, albeit plastic.

"Hyde Park on Hudson" twins the tales of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as harem gatherer and as the host who served hot dogs (Franklinfurters?) to the King and Queen of England in1939. The storyteller is a distant cousin of FDR's, Daisy Suckley. She lives with her aunt in the Hudson Valley, near the family home of Sarah Delano Roosevelt, who put the "hell" in "helicopter" parent. To his childhood home, Roosevelt repaired from the trials of the presidency and the Depression. His mother and his fawning attendees, such as his secretary, Missy LeHand, decided he needed further distraction. They invited the mousy Miss Suckley to take his mind off matters political and listen to his every word.

Writer Richard Nelson based Suckley's half of the film script on her diaries and letters, found after her death. The other half concerns the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth to try to sway the President into supporting the British cause in World War II. Again, if Nelson had chosen just to tell this story, an addendum to "The King's Speech," a story that would have involved politics and international relations and culture, that would have been focused and fascinating. If he had simply wanted to tell a story of the sexually profligate President, that would have been titillating and, for some, revealing. But to try to tell both stories, with quiet little Daisy Suckley the narrator, means that "Hyde Park on Hudson" presents people and stories without focus.

Laura Linney rakes all her talent under an old felt hat and cannot animate Suckley. Bill Murray does his best with FDR, but his best is not good enough to show Franklin Roosevelt's charm and intelligence. Olivia Williams does her best with Eleanor Roosevelt but paints her as merely a wounded woman. Elizabeth Wilson shows a bit of the pain in the patoot that Sarah Roosevelt could be, and the great Eleanor Bron gives credit to Daisy's aunt. The real magnets of the movie are Olivia Colman and Samuel West as the queen and king of England.

Director Roger Michell, best known for directing "Notting Hill" and "Venus," offers glorious vistas and smashing aerial shots of the Hudson Valley. He includes cutesy shots from a bee's eye level and draws close-ups on the hand brakes of Roosevelt's car to draw attention from other hands busy in the front seat. "Hyde Park on Hudson" captures little else, alas.

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