Hyde Park on Hudson is a period comedy drama set in America, in June 1939 - largely at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (let's just refer to him as FDR) family estate "Springwood" in Hyde Park NY, with the Hudson River in close vicinity (hence the movie's title).
Based on actual events, Hyde Park on Hudson focuses on the evolving affair between Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney) and her distant cousin, FDR (Bill Murray) – who was at that time the 32nd President of the United States and the visit in June 1939 by the King and Queen of England (Samuel West as King George VI "Bertie" & Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth I) at Hyde Park.
Hyde Park on Hudson's writer, Richard Nelson is from Daisy's home town of Rhineback NY. The screen play came about as Nelson had met Daisy personally before she passed away in her hundredth year. When clearing out Daisy's estate, a box of diaries and letters detailing Daisy's relationship with FDR was discovered, which Nelson found intriguing and historically significant.
In June 1939, America was in the grips of the Great Depression and its people were suffering and largely reluctant to support the British Empire in the looming World War II. It was the first visit America had received from a reigning British monarchs and it was not intended as a social visit but for the purpose of garnering Roosevelt's and the country's support.
With more than a few drinks and "brotherly bonding", FDR boosts the King's confidence and self esteem and they become firm friends, each sharing their own impediment (the King's speech and FDR's limited mobility).
The dialogue is refreshing and empowering as both acknowledge the challenge and capacity to lead their own countries whilst being respected by their people for their abilities and not their disabilities (FDR was rarely photographed in his wheelchair).
As Nelson portrays it (through Daisy's eyes), the hugely publicised "hot dog picnic" (complete with native American Indian corn ceremony and performers "all Eleanor's idea") was what sealed the deal in forging the special relationship between the leaders of the two countries, guaranteeing America's support of the British Empire for the duration of World War II.
The movie shows a free spirited and liberal minded First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) living a somewhat separate life from her husband, FDR. When at Springwood, FDR lives a somewhat unfulfilling life. Surrounded by his doting & dominating mother, Sarah (Elizabeth Wilson), secretary (and long time mistress) Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and political aids, FDR just wants to be able to step away from his presidential responsibilities from time to time and truly relax.
With the aim of distracting FDR from his worries and woes, Daisy is called upon by her aunty (Eleanor Bron) to visit him and boost his spirits, soon enabling FDR "to forget the weight of the world" whilst he is in her company. Not only does Daisy become FDR's constant companion, she finds herself somewhat unwittingly intimately involved with him. It is not until much later that Daisy discovers she is not the only woman intimately involved with the President (as Missy would later confide – resulting in a respectful relationship between the two women).
Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), Hyde Park on Hudson is well paced (90 minutes) and smoothly transports the viewer to that period in time through Daisy's eyes. Characters are well developed in writer Richard Nelson's light hearted script.
The visit from King George VI "Bertie" and Queen Elizabeth is humorous and well visualised.
Samuel West captures Bertie (King George VI)'s essence, stutter and all. Comparison can rightfully be drawn here between West's performance and that of Colin Firth's in The King's Speech.
Bill Murray portrays what some critics say is a mirror image of the affable FDR in a combination of comedic and dramatic flair. He was handpicked by Roger Michell for the role. Laura Linney portrays the devoted and companionable Daisy effectively, giving the viewer a balanced insight.
This movie won't set the world on fire, it's more likely to appeal to a mature audience, especially those with an interest in American history and the British monarchy. Not of the same calibre as The King's Speech or Lincoln (nor is it meant to be – although Bill Murray was nominated for a Golden Globe), Hyde Park on Hudson will open the viewer's eyes to a period in the time and life of Franklin D Roosevelt, America's popular 32nd president and those he was close to.
I did enjoy the fact that it was easy to watch (no intense viewing required here); the musical score by Jeremy Sams (whose feature work includes The Ring Cycle) was period perfect (soundtrack available), as were the costumes and sets.