By Kimberly Behzadi.
New on Amazon Instant Watch is Hyde Park on Hudson, the 2012 British historical dramedy starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney and directed by Roger Michell. Mitchell’s film is filled with historical inaccuracies and a heavy fixation on sex and scandal, focusing on the famous weekend where the King and Queen of England visited the United States for the first time during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. At this time, Roosevelt (Murray) was suffering from polio, crippled from the waist down. There is an unspoken tension and quite observation of the President’s degenerative illness, but all of his staff choose to say nothing. The storyline of the royal visit competes with the primary storyline of Roosevelt’s growing affair with cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Linney).
The film opens with narration provided by Daisy (Linney) introducing herself as an unfortunate, ambitionless woman. Daisy is a simple woman who describes “living each day as it came” as a result of the Great Depression. There is not much insight to her life besides her duties of caring for her elderly aunt. There is no indication of other immediate family, education, or even work experience. This mundane lifestyle is shattered when Daisy receives a phone call from Roosevelt’s mother. His mother claims that no one else is around, leaving Daisy, Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, as the last resort for the President’s entertainment. Despite her shortcomings, Daisy is the narrator throughout the film and it is shown through her eyes; she is the only outsider who sees the inner workings of the presidency and the Royal Visit. This simplicity is almost idyllic and allows the audience to be charmed by the president’s antics just as she is.
Linney’s portrayal of Daisy is balanced by a subtle performance from Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is limited to act from the waist up and uses his quiet voice with just a slight accent and soft but simple gestures to bring the audience to the human beneath the façade. Time and time again, Daisy explains to the audience that people of the United States and even the President’s staff choose how they want to see the President (as a man not literally crippled by his illness). Daisy however, sees the President as he is. Beyond physical limitations, Murray does not have much material to work with as an actor. Roosevelt’s character reads as a man whose only driving forces include his stamp collection and his mistresses. To the former point, the rows of stamps featuring portraits of various political figures faintly reminds me of a catalogue, and the faces of his many lovers could be swapped out, so with his magnifying glass he could examine each woman for her charm and usefulness.
It is best to address the pink elephant in the room, which is the portrayal of the affair between Daisy and Roosevelt. Historically, it is not confirmed that Daisy and Roosevelt had a sexual relationship. This is illustrated at the beginning of the film where the two are viewed as companions, often taking long drives together and laughing. Their courtship began quite simply over the stamp collection. Daisy and Roosevelt become “very good friends” after a car ride to the hillside. Murray once again invokes small movements; he takes Daisy’s hand in his and then slides her hand to his knee. The camera pulls away to the sweeping flowers on the hillside and one can recognize Roosevelt thrusting, just slightly, up and down in the car, riding through the motions of a hand job. As a man who throughout the film is often carried from one location to the next, this scene is perceived as unrealistic and borderline comical. But still, the message is made clear to the audience: the relationship between Daisy and Roosevelt is not so innocent.
This new “very good friends” relationship is put on hold with the arrival of the King and Queen of England. Equally matched, Samuel West and Olivia Colman play King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Of all the film’s performances these two shine as the stars of the cast. Upon their introduction, their stories are already relatable: the great King must overcome insecurities of his stutter and constant comparisons to his brother and the Queen must stand bravely behind her King despite the troubling times, living a life she did not wish for. The two are coming to America in hopes to convince Roosevelt to support England during the upcoming World War. The weekend visit will culminate with an outdoor picnic where hot dogs are served as the main course, an event that has everyone caught with sleepless nights and life changing choices. Their nerves are so apparent on the screen—desperation in their eyes and a hesitation with every movement. I so deeply sympathized with the two, specifically the King, who clearly wanted, more than anything, to save his people.
Truthfully, it feels like Hyde Park on Hudson is two different stories haphazardly thrown together. The visit of the King and Queen is historically important in its own right. Perhaps director Roger Michell reduced the importance of the event in the film due to The King’s Speech (2011), which had already won numerous accolades. After all, by downplaying the roles of the King & the Queen, the films would not be immediately comparable. Furthermore, pulling away from the King and Queen storyline allows the performances of Murray and Linney to shine (Murray received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor) Despite praise for Murray’s performance though, the film as a whole underperformed at the box office, failing to even earn back the nine million dollar film budget. Reviews of the film were mediocre at best leaving critics and audiences alike yearning for more depth from characters and a more consistent story arc.
Kimberly Behzadi currently resides in Astoria, New York and works as a talent assistant at International Creative Management Partners. She is a 2012 graduate of the State University of New York in Oswego with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema & Screen Studies and English Literature. Her previous experiences include being a Production Assistant on Paul Weitz’s film ADMISSION as well as internships with Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features.