29 January 2013

All the President's Women

I saw Hyde Park on Hudson at the movie preview event I attended recently and, armed only with the film title and a non-existent internet connection, I thought I hadn't heard of it, but as the opening credits began to roll, I realised I had already seen the trailer for Roger Michell's new film. I ended up liking Michell's previous movie, Morning Glory, despite myself, and Hyde Park on Hudson was similarly charming and funny, but probably won't be sticking in my mind for years to come. Indeed, if they use the poster shown on the film's IMDb page for the DVD cover, I don't think it will amass many sales.

While watching Hyde Park on Hudson, I couldn't help but think the title should really have been The King's Speech 2: Meet the Roosevelts, with FDR's mother (Elizabeth Wilson) playing the Robert De Niro role. The film centres around a weekend in 1939 when King George VI (Samuel West), better known as Colin Firth Bertie, and Queen Elizabeth (a brilliant Olivia Colman) are making the first royal visit to America. Their goal: get the Americans on side to help with the burgeoning war in Europe. They will be spending the weekend with the charming FDR (Bill Murray) and his cool wife Eleanor (an underused Olivia Williams) at Mrs Roosevelt Sr's country pad in upstate New York. "I'd like to meet some Americans," says Bertie as they drive out into the countryside. A group of workers in the surrounding fields gamely agree to be met. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is more concerned about whether the plan of serving hot dogs at a picnic (and never have those words been spoken with as much disdain) is some kind of insult to her and her husband.

We see the run-up to the weekend in the country and the weekend itself through the eyes of Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of FDR, who is also his mistress. Actually, one of his mistresses; another alternative title for the film could have been All the President's Women. On the death of the real-life Daisy in 1991, a trove of letters and diaries revealing the affair were discovered. "I helped him forget the weight of the world," Daisy tells us, but we don't get to see much in the way of raw passion, though, apart from a cheeky fumble in the car. FDR just says things that wouldn't be out of place in Jezebel's crap email from a dude column, such as: "I've built you a place where you can be alone and miss me." How enticing... The gesture seems even less special when she finds his private secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) occupying the love nest she thought was her own.

As the film progresses, however, it becomes less about FDR's personal relations and more about international relations. The president and the king swap tips and insecurities. "Sometimes I think [my people] deserve better than me," Bertie confides. FDR, meanwhile, explains that the press are too scared to write about his polio. Banter is exchanged. Some hilarity ensues. Hot dogs are consumed. The birth of a special relationship, between the US and Great Britain, is observed, as another special relationship, between FDR and Daisy, seems to falter.

I enjoyed Hyde Park on Hudson well enough while I was watching it, and that was mainly thanks to the performances. Bill Murray is really good, playing FDR as a charming rogue. Olivia Colman was hilarious, and although Laura Linney won't win awards for her subtle portrayal of the all-seeing mistress, her performance was perfectly restrained and of its time. Samuel West wasn't a bad Bertie, but two years after The King's Speech is probably too soon for anyone to have forgotten how remarkable Colin Firth was. Hyde Park on Hudson is entertaining enough, but there are so many great films out at the moment that unless you are a hardcore movie-goer, you will have a number of other films to work through before you think about seeing this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment