The year is 1939.
has been in the throes of the Great Depression for a decade.
War is looming in
again. Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray)
is President, and to get away from the pressures in
, he frequents his boyhood home in Springwood,
, where his widowed mother still lives. This
film is about one of the weekends in Springwood, told from the perspective of
a distant cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney).
She overdubs that it was in the time when
still kept secrets, and, according to this film, one of FDRís secrets was
his amorous relationship with Miss Suckley.
According to this film, Miss Suckley was
just another in a long line of mistresses, including his secretary, Missy
(Elizabeth Marvel), who claims that FDRís wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams)
knows about them all, and just chooses to look the other way.
(Perhaps thatís one reason why she developed a reputation as a
strong-willed, prone-to-depression sort: she wasnít a happy person.)
, in the pre-television era, was severely crippled from childhood polio.
He could stand only with crutches, and that with great difficulty.
He would use a wheelchair, and would often simply be carried from place
to place by an aide, but was careful not be photographed in such a perilous
pose, and since this was before paparazzi, the press were completely
sympathetic, and careful not to photograph him in such a weak position.
The truth is,
needed to feel that they had a strong, steady leader at the helm.
And FDR could turn on the charm when needed, and always spoke with
intelligence, sometimes even eloquence (ďa date which will live in
But the real event of the film is not
the dalliance with Miss Suckley, which is actually understated to the point of
presumption. Itís about the first
visit of an English monarch to American soil. King
George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visit
at his upstate
hideaway on the
, as a way of cementing the relationship between the two countries.
England, naturally, is worried about becoming engaged in a land war in
Europe, and feels that it desperately needs the support of the United States,
at least economically, if not militarily. Roosevelt,
the politician, is dealing with isolationists on this side of the
who would rather see
tend to its own affairs (the American losses in the last year of World War
One, 21 years earlier, totaled more than 100,000).
But Roosevelt, the man of history, understands that
ís participation is inevitable. So he
has no problem receiving the King and Queen, and assuring them of American
In fact, the best scene in the movie is
when FDR and King George send away all the minions and the maids, and just
have some after-dinner drinks in the library. They
smoke cigarettes in each otherís presence, and speak of stamp collecting,
and other pursuits that allow them some precious private time.
Another drink, and George admits that his stuttering bothers him, and
demonstrates how difficult it is for him to even stand, much less walk.
Another drink, and they are admitting personal insecurities about their
capacities to meet the expectations of others.
Another drink, and they are giggling about their fussy wives (and later
denying to them that they were the subject of conversation).
Yes, in another era it would be called ďmale bonding,Ē but here
itís also building the trust level, and even establishing personal
affection, between the King of England and the President of the
. No telling how much history might
have been different had that trust and affection not been established in these
And yet, other than that compelling
scene, the movie is strangely staged and stilted, and so slow-paced as to be
lethargic. It may receive recognition
for individual performances, but this will not set any box-office records.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephenís Presbyterian Church,