STARRING Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Samuel West DIRECTED BY Samuel West SCREENPLAY Richard Nelson MPAA RATING Rated R RUNNING TIME 94 Mins. DISTRIBUTED B Y Focus Features
"Hyde Park on Hudson" Features a Perfect Bill Murray as FDR
There's a really good film trying to find its way out of director Roger Michell's muddled and inconsistent Hyde Park on Hudson, a film likely to become more known for Bill Murray's career best performance as FDR than it is as a singular cinematic achievement.
The odds are pretty strong that if you were to think to yourself "Who would I cast as Franklin Delano Roosevelt?" that Bill Murray wouldn't be the first or the eighth or the 30th to come to mind.
That's why you're not a filmmaker and Roger Michell is a filmmaker. It takes quite the artistic vision to see Murray transformed from the curmudgeonly comic we know and love to the brilliant and beloved President from U.S. history.
Murray pulls it off magnificently.
Hyde Park on Hudson centers on the potentially ever so slightly romantic relationship between FDR and a certain Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), his sixth cousin who becomes quite the confidante for the President as he prepares for a visit by England's King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). King George VI, as you may recall from a certain film called The King's Speech, is the famously stuttering one who rose to the required level of leadership for his nation when it needed him most.
Part of the problem with Hyde Park on Hudson is exactly that it's trying to tell multiple different stories and ends up telling none of them very well. The relationship between FDR and Suckley, who had to be thinking to herself "Why couldn't I have had the last name Roosevelt?," is an intriguing story but Suckley is largely relegated here to a timid and passive character that is interesting only because of the role that she ends up playing in FDR's life. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Linney's performance, it's quite good actually, but there's simply no spark in the story itself and as a functional piece of proposed history it just never takes off on the level that it should.
Hyde Park on Hudson is most interesting when FDR is interacting with the royal couple, interactions that both the frailties of these two world leaders and the intricacies of old-fashioned politics. These scenes, unfortunately, aren't really given their due because Michell is balancing material based upon a 2009 British radio stage play by Richard Nelson that insists on painting a more convoluted portrait of FDR than really needs to be.
Director Roger Michell seems well suited to this material, having given us the terrific Austen adaptation Persuasion and the simple yet quite popular Notting Hill. He never seems quite in control of this material, though, and even the film's tone inconsistently vacillates between intimate and epic. In a film that deals with one of the U.S.'s most popular and respected Presidents, it seems odd that the most memorable scenes involve a hand job and a hot dog.
Murray is quite terrific here, though his actual physical resemblance to FDR is modest at best. Murray captures the humanity beneath FDR's exterior though he's not quite as presidential as one might want this performance to be. In most years, Murray would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination but in a year when Daniel Day-Lewis has so masterfully portrayed yet another beloved President, even an Oscar nomination may be a stretch.
Olivia Williams is low-key but convincing as Eleanor, though emotionally she may very well be the most resonant character in a film that otherwise taps more into the novelty of its story than the emotions that drive the story. Olivia Colman does a fine job as Queen Elizabeth, and while Samuel West is suitable to "Bertie," he pales in comparison to Colin Firth's far more convincing and memorable performance from The King's Speech.
Original music from Jeremy Sams gives the film a needed lift, though D.P. Lol Crawley lenses the film in such a way that only stresses its wildly uneven tone. That's a compliment, I suppose, because Hyde Park on Hudson never lives up to the beautiful film it is trying to be.