Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hyde Park on Hudson

Ever since "The King's Speech" and even before, royal or political stories based on semi- true events circa 1930 have been all the rage. "Hyde Park on Hudson" is the latest of these. From the outset, I wish I had liked the film more. It has all the right elements: the accomplished Laura Linney as Margaret Suckley, FDR's sixth cousin and the all but fictional Mistress and a tempting breezy story with top-notch production design. The cars, suits, the hats and cream colored dresses shine in chrome perfection, second only to Jack Clayton's "The Great Gatsby". There is also the added expectation of the inimitable and quirky Bill Murray as FDR, who usually gives unusual verve and spirit to his repertoire of curmudgeons.

If only a stellar cast could make some historical hijinks. I can forgive that a fair bit of drama is enhanced here, that being the fact that Suckley is only known to be a romantically platonic but intimate confidante to FDR. According to my research, she never did anything improper or sexual, but shared "secrets" with the president none the less.

The main problem with "Hyde Park on Hudson" is there is not much here and it lags by midway. I yearned to hang a metaphysical FDR hat on Bill Murray who I greatly admire, but he is reticent, flushed and wobble headed for too much of the outing. Aside from some realistic and astonishing grabbing at desks and tables (his polio was not much talked about even in my school) to steady his braced legs, there is little sense of Roosevelt here. I could not escape from a smoking and drinking Murray in an FDR suit.

Much of the circus-business centers on King George VI, the stutter-blighted Bertie from "The King's Speech", played here by Samuel West and his visit to Roosevelt at Hudson, New York. The King and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) spend a good parcel of time being frustrated and worked up about a hot dog picnic and although the humor escapes me, there were quite a few laughs behind me.

The goings on are played for light laughs with the obligatory scenes of the staff peeking behind closed doors. King George's stutter is so well established from past cinematic outings but we get little else here. He is henpecked by Elizabeth. Shouldn't there be just a bit more?

Laura Linney for her part seems either sleepy or overcome with tears ala melodrama. In one scene during a dark and moony night when spying Eleanor (Olivia Williams,) she runs and screams and yes, stumbles and falls. Granted this is faux history but it might as well be "Twilight".

The most intriguing scene occurs during a drive through a field of lavender flowers. Although we do not see the explicit act, it is pretty well described that Roosevelt is flushed and near climax with Margaret in the car. But the incident is never mentioned again with the attention shifting to King George, hot dogs and stuttering with it all running tepid.

There is such a buildup over the picnic itself, that by the time it actually occurs, it is all circumstance. The crowds arrive, flashbulbs pop, and hotdogs are eaten with some patronizing talk of Native American dance and none of it is all that compelling. The coming and going (what there is of it) proves far too digestible.
Think of it as a hybrid of "The King's Speech" and "Downton Abbey" put through a vermouth filter. And, granted, it is perfectly feasible to enjoy the passing of ninety minutes in this association under the breeze of Bill Murray, some hot dog banter and booze.

The missed opportunity of "Hyde Park on Hudson" though, is that we have only a mere coat hanger of Roosevelt, a not too sneaky Margaret Suckley, and a sketch of a friendship between a silly King George VI and an American president.

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