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'Hyde Park on Hudson' doesn't illuminate FDR, critics say

December 07, 2012|By Oliver Gettell

"Hyde Park on Hudson," this award season's less flashy presidential portrait, stars Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the time of a visit by England's King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) in 1939 to drum up international support on the eve of World War II.

In addition to portraying FDR at work, "Hyde Park" endeavors to show another side of the 32nd president through the lens of his relationships with the many women in his life, including wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), mother Sara (Elizabeth Wilson) and distant cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney). For many critics, however, the film's split focus hinders its attempts to illuminate FDR and those around him.

In one of the film's more positive reviews, Times film critic Kenneth Turan writes, "This combination [of two stories] has its problematic moments, but you rarely notice them because of the great and diverting skill with which 'Hyde Park' has been made." Turan adds that "Murray is very much the reason to see 'Hyde Park,' " and the actor's take on FDR "beautifully conveys the notion of the chief executive as seductive star performer, a man who counted on his ever-appealing charm to get his way in matters both personal and professional." West and Colman also hold their own, Turan says.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis is less impressed, writing, "Roosevelt was one of the towering figures of the 20th century, but he and his accomplishments scarcely register in this amorphous, bafflingly aimless movie." Central to the problem, Dargis says, is that the film focuses, "increasingly to its detriment," on FDR and Daisy's relationship, which in this film is characterized as a romantic one. As far as why the audience might care, however, Dargis says the movie "doesn’t have an answer."

USA Today's Claudia Puig agrees, writing that "despite its titillating subject matter, the story of the relationship between FDR (Bill Murray) and his stamp-admiring sixth cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), feels passionless." Though the plot involving the royals and their visit to FDR's estate in upstate New York is more engrossing, the way the film switches gears leaves it feeling "disjointed and formless," Puig says.

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal agrees with Turan that Murray "gives a fascinating performance." He adds, "It isn't mimicry, or the phenomenal transformation of Daniel Day-Lewis into Lincoln, but a more modest, impressionistic approach that's enjoyable on its own terms." Despite that, and though Linney "is certainly engaging" as Daisy, bringing her usual intelligence and grace to the role, the film's attention is in the wrong place. Overall, Morgenstern says, "Hyde Park" is "as earnest as it is ill-advised."

The Village Voice's Alan Scherstuhl also praises Murray — "supreme in his rumpled charisma" — but laments that Linney, for all her talents, is "given little to play save excitement at the great man's attentions and then anger that they aren't exclusive to her." Moreover, many questions raised go unanswered. "Perhaps the filmmakers considered Murray's FDR to be explanation enough," Scherstuhl muses, but one gets the sense that it isn't quite.


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