The 1930s, though a pivotal and transitional era in American history, are seldom reveled as a blithe, romantic decade in the world of film. Gangster movies, raging war films and sweeping, powerful dramas tend to dominate when it comes to portraying the ’30s. However, British director Roger Michell took a different perspective on the era by focusing on one setting, one event and one relationship in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” creating a cheery, whimsical view of the dreary decade.
“Hyde Park on Hudson” is a simple tale of love and politics told through the perspective of Daisy (Laura Linney), Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cousin (and later, lover). The year is 1939. The United States sits in a well of depression. Across the pond, Britain braces itself for war and pleads for the assistance of other nations. Daisy remains at her small estate, caring for her aging aunt, until her presence is requested by Roosevelt (Bill Murray) at his home, the titular Hyde Park on Hudson. Establishing a close relationship with the president, Daisy soon becomes witness to a royal visit from the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman).
Murray’s layered depiction of a wheelchair-bound FDR is endearing, cheeky, sympathetic and cunning. The relationship between King George, or “Bertie” as he is affectionately referred to in the film, and FDR adds a different level of sophistication to the otherwise shallow film.
“They didn’t want me as their king,” Bertie divulges with a stutter to a stoic-faced president.
“I didn’t think they voted for that in England,” replies FDR with a small smile. The film’s humor is well-weaved throughout.
Daisy’s narration gets lost somewhere in the middle of the movie, making a swift but brief comeback at the end. Instead of following Daisy, the perspective switches to the neurotic royal couple, whose culture shock is both amusing and refreshing, but the contrast feels too sudden. The film’s striking point is the strength of character and emotion the actors evoke in their portrayals of historical figures. Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) is the epitome of a modern day, independent woman. Daisy is reserved and lowly like her namesake. Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) is prissy, shrill and demanding, while Samuel West plays a pitiable, eager-to-please young king. All of the actors give spectacular representations of their characters, but the comedic aspect doesn’t truly allow for any substantiation of performance.
Overall, “Hyde Park and Hudson” succeeds in maintaining a balance between a romantic comedy and historical drama, but it’s little more than an ordinary film. Most of the actors’ performances are strong, but the film’s light tone both helps and hurts the movie by adding little depth to a sparse plot line.
Speakeasy Rating: B+
“Hyde Park on Hudson”
Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Samuel West, and Olivia Colman
Rated R for brief sexuality