Never meet your heroes, they say. An addition to this adage should be: never watch bad films about your heroes’ private lives.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the most inspiring human beings to have lived in the past 100 years, but Hyde Park on Hudson’s sin is not that it paints him as a layabout or a womaniser, but worse, it paints him as terribly, terribly boring.
Set in the later years of the Great Depression, the film finds the wheelchair-bound president, played here by Bill Murray, escaping the pressures of office for regular visits to his mother’s estate in rural New York, where he begins a pedestrian affair with his distant cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), known as Daisy. The film is based on her private diaries, which were not discovered until her death in the early 1990s and, as it turns out, were not particularly interesting.
Despite the film’s passionate narration by an elderly Daisy, the style of which owes far too much to the old lady in Titanic, the affair with FDR is mundane and soulless. The two enjoy drives across fields of flowers before parking and, like a pair of awkward teenagers, engage in some mutual masturbation. The narration continues to insist that Daisy is falling in love with FDR, but Linney’s purse-lipped, shifty-eyed performance makes her out to be more of an obsessive stalker. FDR indulges her more sexual favours – the film repeatedly implies his wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), was a lesbian.
Because the FDR/Daisy storyline is so inherently weak, the film shifts its focus to the preposterous notion that a visit to Hyde Park by the King and Queen of Britain in 1939 secured the freedom of the world by making firm allies of the USA and Great Britain. This is despite the fact the war had not yet begun and would rage for two years before the USA sent anything more than a few supplies.
There is simply no way to get across how inane Richard Nelson’s script is, except to clarify that the emotional crux of the movie is King George VI eating a hotdog. On that note, many of the film’s most desperate attempts at humour revolve around the late Queen Mother’s continued pronunciation of hotdog as if it were two words. The narration, which the film practically drowns in, manages to be both pathetic and patronising. ‘She was one of mother’s spies,’ older Daisy tells us. ‘Mother had her spies too.’ Yes Daisy, we gathered as much from your previous statement.
Linney gets lost with where to go with her role, uncertain whether to play it as wide-eyed love-struck girl or smalltown simpleton – either way, neither suits her. Bill Murray tries to act as FDR, but struggles even with the accent, occasionally lapsing in a Colonel Sanders-style drawl, and fails to find any romance or compassion in this lazy demonisation of the great man.
Samuel West does a fine impression of Colin Firth doing a fine impression of George VI, while Olivia Colman is reduced to portraying Queen Elizabeth as every uptight posh English woman in film history rolled into one. Their scenes together are excruciating, and yet the highlight of the film.
Featuring a lengthy debate about whether or not the moon shining one night is indeed full, Hyde Park on Hudson is an astonishing work, in that it ever got made. Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus), shows a fine eye for landscape imagery and historical set design, but even he can’t convince these actually great actors to drag any life from this stillborn script.
I promise you this, if you go to see Hyde Park on Hudson, you will want to leave, and if you don’t leave, you will regret after that you didn’t.
On the plus side, be thankful that it is only February and the worst film of the year is already behind us. It is only uphill from here.