ď Hyde Park on Hudson Ē
The year is 1939. America has been in the throes of the Great Depression for a decade. War is looming in Europe again. Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) is President, and to get away from the pressures in Washington , he frequents his boyhood home in Springwood, New York , 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 America 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.) Franklin , 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, America 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 infamyĒ).
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 Roosevelt at his upstate New York hideaway on the Hudson River , 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 Atlantic Ocean who would rather see Europe 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 America ís participation is inevitable. So he has no problem receiving the King and Queen, and assuring them of American support.
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 Franklin 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 United States . No telling how much history might have been different had that trust and affection not been established in these world leaders.
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, Irving , Texas