With an intriguing concept firmly in place, Hyde Park on Hudson nevertheless stumbles out of the gate and, like last year’s The Iron Lady, collapses into another instance of a fine cast in need of a better movie.
Hyde Park juggles — and lamely attempts to intertwine — two parallel story lines: The main one concerns President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and First Lady Eleanor (Olivia Williams) playing host and hostess to King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) at the Roosevelt family home in at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York, in June 1939. This was the first ever visit to the US by a reigning English monarch, made on the eve of World War II at a time when Britain was vulnerable and desperately seeking allies.
The second, and most ungainly, plot thread deals with Roosevelt’s infidelities, specifically one with a distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney), with whom he reconnects (and then some) during his retreat. Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson shoot themselves in the narrative foot by relying on her to tell the story, setting her up as our eyes and ears at a historic and fateful meeting of world leaders, only to have her wander off and fret over not being invited to the dinner party. She’s a limited observer, one who lurks on the fringes of a more interesting movie. It’s a waste of Linney’s talent.
There’s really very little point to the whole thing: Aside from a captivating man-to-man chat Between FDR and the King, their budding relationship is glossed over in favor of loads of cheap “let’s have a laugh at the stuffy royals” tropes. The ins and outs of the President’s polyamorous arrangements are largely ignored — as a matter of fact, more screen time is devoted to George and Elizabeth fretting over whether or not they should hot dogs at a picnic. It’s as if Michell and Nelson were afraid to fully engage the material.
Murray isn’t, however and he does a great job with an underwritten role, keeping it from sliding into pure caricature. West does fine work as well, saddled with the thankless job of having to play King George so soon after Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning turn in The King’s Speech.
In the end, it adds up to a missed opportunity whose portrait of Roosevelt is as thin and one-dimensional as the profile on a dime.