Bill Murray redeems 'Hyde Park'

Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 'Hyde Park on Hudson. (Handout)

Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 'Hyde Park on Hudson. (Handout)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:20 AM ET

There are many things wrong, and one thing amazingly right, in the FDR-as-philanderer piece Hyde Park on Hudson.

What's right is Bill Murray's performance as a cool, self-possessed and charismatic Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Portraying a womanizer of disarming charm, who finesses a history-making picnic (in which George VI and Elizabeth are made to eat - gasp! - hot dogs) into the catalyst for America's support in the upcoming war.

Not a mere charmer, his FDR is a surgically-astute psychologist, able to pierce through the King's reserve by genially comparing his stutter to his own polio-challenged legs.

And then there's the rest of the movie, a mannered, stiflingly-controlled bit of business from South African-born Brit Roger Michell that cages the political lion that Murray has taken pains to let loose.

The biggest mistake in Hyde Park on Hudson is its point of view. It's told, partly in narration, by Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of Roosevelt who becomes his latest paramour. A country mouse, agog at the attention from her famous blood relative, her rosy reminiscences have a girlish breathlessness to them, even when she's supposed to be angry and scorned.

They have practically just re-met after years, when he takes her for a drive in car specially modified for his disability. What follows is a perfunctory "parking" scene, in which FDR places Daisy's hand on his lap, and we imagine much of the rest.

Such delicacy by director Michell is decidedly un-American. The viewer would like to know more about the relationship, not just the sexual aspect but the mesh of their personalities. Instead, in their scenes together, Daisy is pretty much just bowled over by FDR. It's a pretty unrewarding role for an actress of Linney's calibre. Nor is she given a much dramatic room to play against the First Lady (Olivia Williams as an imperious and unflappably controlling Eleanor).

Hyde Park on Hudson's third-act narrative sideshow - the visit of the King and Queen to the presidential vacation estate - has its entertaining moments. Samuel West and Olivia Colman make for a clownishly-uptight "Bertie" and Elizabeth, he in need of a good manning-up, and she ostensibly in need of a shutting-up. Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter they aren't.

It all becomes a pretty light-hearted affair (double-entendre intended), en route to the climactic moment at the picnic. As a piece of drama, Hyde Park on Hudson is as slight as Bill Murray's performance is weighty.

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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