Desperately clinging to the fading memory of last year’s Academy Award-sweeping The King’s Speech (2010), Roger Michel’s Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) tells the story of an important weekend in the summer of 1939, when president Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) played host to King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman), who hoped to persuade America to lend support to Britain in the event of war. Beneath this politically charged tale is a love story between FDR and his very distant cousin Margaret (Laura Linney), who becomes his mistress in his house in the the wilds of New York State.
Hyde Park on Hudson is based on letters discovered after death of Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor, and peppered with (all too much) voice over narration to speed us through the plot. Eleanor (Olivia Williams), ambivalent to his affairs, spends her time apparently scheming numerous ways to set the royal couple on edge. As the weekend plays out, the fate of nations is decided amidst turbulent and troubled personal politics.
Whilst the lavish look of Michel’s comedy-drama provides us with a sense of period drama quality, drenched as it is in a nostalgic rinse, the plot is a woefully messy affair that never quite knows what direction it wants to take. The backdrop of the political visit is picked up and then dropped again as the emotional drama unfolds. There is a hint at a tough edit that has removed scenes which would have provided a more graceful flow between the two stories, but even at 90 minutes in length, the film is far from concise.
Murray’s screen presence is normally always welcome, however this time he is a victim, (as are the rest of the cast) of weak characterisation that never really delivers. Coleman and West make for an adequate, if not wholly convincing royal tag team, but remain firmly in the shadow of both Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. Each of the individual portraits of these historical characters attempt to realise rounded aspects of their characters, stripped of the myth history has laid upon them. Worse still is the treatment of the female characters who are portrayed as the nagging housewives of stately men.
Although a love story in name, there is actually little love to be found in this jumbled affair. Whist the Hyde Park on Hudson will almost certainly find an audience in mothers and grandmothers for this initially seemingly sweet tale, most will find it a woeful disappointment that aimlessly attempts to capture a snapshot of history between the two nations.
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