Susan Granger’s review of “Hyde Park on Hudson” (Focus Features)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States in a far more innocent age. Not only was the press complicit in skirting FDR’s sexual indiscretions but few photographs revealed the fact that his legs were paralyzed by polio. Inspired by real events that occurred in June, 1939, director Roger Mitchell (“Notting Hill,” “Venus,” “Morning Glory”) gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of this charismatic, history-making Chief Executive at his country home in upstate New York.
Viewed through the adoring eyes of his fifth cousin/confidante and neighbor, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), an invitation to drive through the purple wildflowers and forested trails of Roosevelt Farm with wry, gregarious FDR was irresistible, even if she was originally summoned to Springwood as ‘a distraction’ before the arrival of King George VI (Samuel West) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). The reason for this first-ever visit of a reigning British monarch was to engage isolationist America’s support against Hitler’s Germany.
As FDR’s steely, dominating mother, Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and eccentric, independent wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), prepare for a historic weekend with the visiting Royals, which includes a bucolic picnic at Top Cottage, where “hot dogs” will be served, Daisy realizes that she’s not the only woman from whom the President derives pleasure. There’s his devoted secretary, Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), plus other mistresses.
Based on Daisy Suckley’s diaries and letters, Richard Nelson’s astute screenplay juggles complicated personal and political dilemmas. Yet the most poignant drama comes during an after-dinner encounter between avuncular FDR and the vulnerable, inexperienced King, whose problem with stuttering was delineated in “The King’s Speech.”
As the formidable 32nd President, Bill Murray (“Rushmore,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) seems destined for an Oscar nomination, as do Laura Linney and Olivia Williams. But it’s Murray who brushes aside the calculations of the story with sheer believability and the unwavering force of his sardonic humanity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hyde Park on Hudson” is an indelible 8, as Bill Murray delivers one of the most astonishing, rewarding performances of the year.