Roger Michell’s ravishing Hyde Park on Hudson gives us a glimpse into the private life of one of our most beloved presidents, and what we see is that F.D.R. was an exceedingly likable, effortlessly manipulative man. For some, the choice to cast Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt may seem an odd one, but on screen, as the two seamlessly become one, the default deadpan persona falls away and what is left is a pitch perfect portrayal of a brilliantly charming man who guided the most powerful nation in the world through an expertly constructed informational filter. The film, though light on plot, moves with a zealous confidence and is driven by an Oscar-nom-worthy master stroke from Murray.
Revolving around the weekend in which the young king and queen of England came to America for the first time with hopes of forming an alliance in anticipation of German attacks, the film focuses on FDR’s secret relationship with his distant cousin, Margaret (played by an ignorantly innocent Laura Linney). In fact, the film is told from her perspective with interspersed voice over of personal recollection. Just when their relationship seems to be a private emotional peak running along parallel with the royal visit, Margaret makes a startling discovery that forces her to accept the secret reality she lives in or back away from the man she’s grown so close to.
What’s most surprising about Hyde Park on Hudson is that it almost feels like a light hearted sequel to The King’s Speech, with Samuel West standing in as the stuttering king along side his queenly wife (played here by Olivia Colman). On screen they are quite the funny pair, continuously appalled with American culture and downright horrified at the idea of eating a hot dog at a publicized picnic. While much of the film relies on such simplicities of whimsical romance and misunderstanding to impart an airy effervescence, it takes great care to prove that quite often secrets are best left untold. In one key discussion between the wheelchair bound president and his new royal confidant, this point is elegantly handled, and in our digital age of continuous public divulgence, Michell’s genially simple film is a refreshing exposé that we all might do well to take heed of.
Reviewed on September 13 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – Gala Presentations Programme. 95 Min.