Hyde Park on Hudson: Spooning with FDR

If you have viewed all eight seasons of Foyle's War on Netflix, as any responsible TV aficionado should have done by now, you'll know how peeved the Brits were about America's late entry into World War II.

Well, Hyde Park on Hudson chronicles how King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) of England traipsed across the Atlantic to convince FDR and the American public to set aside their beloved isolationist stances and come to the aid of the free world and help beat up the Nazis. This, as you will learn, was accomplished with the aid of hot dogs and mustard.

But before everyone gets down to munching on America's favorite sausage, screenwriter Richard Nelson recounts what led up to this pivotal historic moment by focusing upon the "romance" FDR (a first-rate Bill Murray) had with his sixth cousin and neighbor Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), better known as Daisy.

Daisy, who described herself in her diaries as "playing the part of the prim spinster," was a plain woman, who apparently entertained the cheerfully perverse President by making no demands upon him. She was innocent, loyal, and filled with fantasies of affection that she alone kept the man who ran the world in good spirits. And if doing so included now and then using her hand on his private parts, well, men are men, and why else did God give females (and gay men) digits? Although I must admit the sight of an automobile shaking back and forth while FDR gets masturbated does seem to diminish the presidency a little, even in these post-Clinton years.

Climactic tremors aside,Hyde Park is solidly acted by all in the major roles, and deliciously cast with the likes of Eleanor Bron, Elizabeth Wilson, and Elizabeth Marvel in the more minor ones. The highlight of the film, though, is a late-night chat between the polio-stricken FDR and the nervous Bertie, whom you'll recall as the lovable stutterer in The King's Speech. After some to and fro, FDR buoys up the timorous, self-conscious monarch by noting the public doesn't take note of their impairments because the public doesn't want to see those flaws in their leaders.

Sadly, the film keeps drifting back to the dalliance between the cousins, and Daisy, while kindly, lacks a dynamic persona, an eccentric nature, or a wit to relish. When she's on screen, you often can't wait until Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) or Bertie pop in again. That has a lot to with Nelson's occasionally clichéd and soggy screenplay (e.g. an upset Daisy running through the fields at night) and Roger Michell's stylistically unimaginative direction. Yet in the end, this is a painless history lesson with several highly wry moments, and there's some merit in that.

(Hyde Park on Hudson is an offering of the 50th New York Film Festival.) - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "The Arts in New York City," "American Jewish Theater," and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily NewsSoho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing groupFlashPoint.

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