Did Franklin Delano Roosevelt have an affair with his fifth cousin Daisy? Who cares, the King and Queen of England are in town!
That’s how “Hyde Park on Hudson” treats its story. Like the cinematic equivalent of attention deficit disorder, “Hyde Park,” directed by Roger Michell (“Morning Glory”), tells the garden-gossip story of Roosevelt’s taboo relationship with his cousin, but drops it in place of focusing on the President’s first meeting with King George and Elizabeth. Not quite sure how to handle both stories together, “Hyde Park” fumbles both, creating a shapeless, bland film.
There’s little to take away from “Hyde Park” apart from Bill Murray’s electrifying performance as Roosevelt. He is captivating from his first moments on screen. His Roosevelt is soft-spoken and folksy, but Murray adds subtle layers to the 32nd president, presenting him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This darker edge is something that should have been explored more thoroughly, and Murray is compelling at this shadier side. Even when he’s being a creep, Murray’s FDR delivers a toothy smile.
Having fallen out of love with the first lady (Olivia Williams), FDR seeks companionship with his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). As their relationship begins to take on more than just discussing his stamp collection, Eleanor begins to self-destruct. But that story is upended and somewhat discarded as King George and Elizabeth make their appearance at Roosevelt’s home.
This turns the film into a comedy of manners as the King and Queen try to understand and adapt to the alien ways of American society, culminating in an awkward and silly scene with them eating hot dogs for the very first time.
While the visiting Royals and the affair with Daisy are enticing plots, they are both diminished by sacrificing one for the other. The film tries to cover it all but just can’t quite put all the pieces together to make a whole.
The supporting cast is compiled of fantastic actors, each giving their all, despite Richard Nelson’s paltry screenplay. Williams is dynamic as Eleanor Roosevelt. She quietly slips into each scene and we can see the actress working up a fiery storm from within, before exiting in a tempestuous rant. Samuel West and Olivia Colman make a fine pair as Bertie and Elizabeth as fish-out-of-water in the New York countryside. The great Elizabeth Wilson rounds out the cast as FDR’s grand socialite mother.
Laura Linney is sadly underused here because of the structure of the story. Even though she narrates the film, she undeservedly becomes an afterthought by film’s end.
“Hyde Park on Hudson” tries hard to be the American hit that was the “King’s Speech,” but stamps, hot dogs and a muddled screenplay keep this from rising to cinema royalty.