FDR meets the King in Hyde Park on Hudson

| January 02, 2013
Bill Murray in "Hyde Park on Hudson"
- Photo by Nicola Dove
Bill Murray in "Hyde Park on Hudson"

There's an interesting movie tucked away within Hyde Park on Hudson, but it's not the promised biopic of Franklin D. Roosevelt. No, on that front, director Roger Michell (Venus; Notting Hill) and writer Richard Nelson fashion a tedious tabloid of a film. Reducing the president who led America through the Great Depression and World War II to an impish lothario trawling the Hudson Valley for impressionable kin and starstruck confidants, Hyde Park on Hudson feels as if it should be accompanied by the tag "Showtime Original Picture."

Margaret "Daisy" Stuckley (Laura Linney) is seemingly plucked from pastoral obscurity by FDR (Bill Murray), her sixth cousin, and invited to visit his country estate at Hyde Park, New York. The two soon go from admiring Roosevelt's stamp collection to joyrides punctuated by happy endings in his convertible Plymouth. Against this backdrop of handjobs on Hudson, Daisy develops uneasy relationships with FDR's private secretary, Missy LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), and his wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), depicted here as little more than a leftist virago and closeted lesbian.

Roosevelt's affairs and strained marriage are well-documented. Here, however, they are foisted for little more than titillation, lacking any context or examination. Even Murray's charming portrayal—more approximation than impersonation—lacks any sense of such rank self-indulgence.

The one allowance for historical context—and the film's much more intriguing subplot—comes with the celebrated visit to Hyde Park by King George VI, aka "Bertie" (Samuel West), and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) in June 1939, the first time a reigning British monarch set foot on U.S. soil. Serving as a veritable sequel to The King's Speech, this stretch follows the Windsors as they solicit America's assistance against the surging Nazi tide.

The seeming indignities of modest accommodations, breaches of protocol, and an outdoor picnic with hot dogs and Native American entertainment are the consequence of FDR's political genius. Plagued with self-doubt, the 43-year-old Bertie finds solace in Roosevelt as he juxtaposes his polio affliction with the king's chronic stutter. The president assumes the role of father figure to a monarch who never felt his own father's approval.

These scenes, swirling with the undercurrent of Britain and America's tumultuous history, are the unquestioned high point of Hyde Park on Hudson. The rest of this meager tale is a dime-store Downton Abbey.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Halcyon past, scary present."


Hyde Park on Hudson opens Friday (see times below)

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Want to know the true story of the real-life events that inspired the film? Then check out my book, Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR met George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson, on Amazon. (www.amazon.com/Hot-Dogs-Cocktails-George-e…

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Posted by Peter Conradi on 01/05/2013 at 2:35 PM

The story is ludicrous - any reading of Geoffrey Ward's book, "Closest Companion," which tells their story through her letters and diaries, indicates no intimate relationship. I have been writing and lecturing on FDR for decades and I have not seen the film. From reading countless reviews and seeing outtakes I have no doubt that this film is more of a parody and its conclusions should not be taken with any seriousness. FDR was a powerful personality that attracted women admirers for decades. He was also an incredibly private individual who kept his inner thoughts to very few people. These few people did not keep notes, few wrote any memoirs (Louis Howe, Missy LeHand, Harry Hopkins and others wrote nothing) and the ones that did, knew little of his relationships and inner thoughts. That era was fraught with romanticism and life was quite fragile, relationships were close, warm and very often not intimate in the least. The idea that anyone could hear, report or remember even fragments of private conversations they were not part of is specious.

Historians and fiction writers make conclusions that are quite often totally unsupported by the facts. FDR kept no diary, his letters were not ones of intimacy and there are volumes of them to peruse. Margaret “Daisy” Suckley liked to listen, had no romantic relationships in her long life, and never bothered FDR with details, demands or pressure. He was able to relax with her and he often would give her insights and updates on some of the events that had unfolded or were about to happen. She, like the president, was quite discreet. Even her siblings didn’t even know that she knew the president.

He was very careful about what he wrote and he almost never revealed any clue of his intentions. I have over 400 books on FDR, thousands of articles, artifacts and collectibles and have devoted 27 radio broadcasts over six years on FDR, the New Deal, Eleanor Roosevelt and related subjects.

Richard J. Garfunkel
Host of The Advocates
WVOX 1460 am radio
New Rochelle, NY

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Posted by Richard J. Garfunkel on 01/03/2013 at 7:49 AM
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