Olivia Williams, left, Laura Linney and Bill Murray in "Hyde Park… (Nicola Dove/Focus Features )
It sounds like stunt casting, but Bill Murray’s portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson” isn’t a joke. Enjoying its world premiere in an outdoor screening Friday night at the Telluride Film Festival, “Hyde Park” is director Roger Michell’s mostly serious look at a very short time in FDR’s life—a visit in 1939 by the King of England to the president’s upstate New York home.
World War II is looming and England needs America’s help, but “Hyde Park” is not preoccupied with global politics, or even domestic concerns. Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Roosevelt and his relative, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), just as the King and Queen are
set to arrive. After one hardly platonic rendezvous with FDR, Suckley remarks that they are no longer “just fifth cousins but very good friends.”
The president might have built Suckley her own love nest, but she wasn’t the only woman in his circle. Rather clumsily at times, FDR juggles his mother, wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), and secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel). “My husband lives for the adoring eyes of young women,” Eleanor says in a bit of an understatement. Philandering, and philatelics—who knew Roosevelt was such a stamp collector?
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It was a time, Suckley remarks in a voiceover, “When the world still allowed itself secrets.” But what might have been a secret to outsiders wasn’t private within the Roosevelt home, and once so many affairs become noticed, the royal visit is the least of the president’s worries.
The film’s most memorable scene, however, has no women in it. It’s a scene between FDR and King George VI (Samuel West). Even though the
monarch is played by a different actor than in “The King’s Speech,” he still
has his stutter. In trying to ask for American assistance, the king is flummoxed by his speech impediment, only to be disarmed by the president’s talking about polio.
"Can you imagine the disappointment," the president tells the king, "when they find out what we really are?"
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