Director: Roger Michell
This review orignally appeared on Ramp.ie
Producers must have got an idea into their heads that making a film based around even the slightest of historic events will win them prestige and awards. However, one must do the maths. The amount of prestige to be garnered is in proportion to the importance of the events being portrayed. The King’s Speech is about the monarchical crisis in Britain following Edward VIII’s abdication; it won the Oscar for Best Picture. Lincoln portrays the efforts to abolish slavery to end the American Civil War; it was a strong contender for the Best Picture Oscar this year. Hyde Park On Hudson is about royals eating hot dogs and presidents getting handjobs. It’s dreadful.
Bill Murray is everyone’s favourite eccentric charmer, but even he can’t lift this limp (if based in truth) story. In the summer of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Murray) became the first US president to host a visit from British royalty. Colin Firth does not reprise his Oscar-winning role (imagine the sequel marketing opportunities! The King Speaks… er, Again?), but Samuel West ably fills his shoes. He and his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) embark on their trip to Hyde Park, NY to get support from FDR in case old Mr. Hitler acts up. Had the strategy and politics been the focus, HPOH might have been noteworthy. However, director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) thinks he has a culture-clash comedy on his hands. Richard Nelson’s script devotes a lot of time to the prospect of royalty having to consume hot dogs. Unless you’re six years old, there’s nothing particularly funny about hot dogs.
All this is told from the point of view of Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of FDR’s who is summoned to the president’s residence out of the blue. She and FDR form a close bond, sometimes uncomfortably close. Apparently, FDR’s marriage to Eleanor (Olivia Williams, wasted) was more-or-less open, and so he takes a chance to get ‘close’ to cousin. There is no point to this storyline, and historians suggest it’s spurious at best. Presenting FDR as a horny old dog is a move designed to cover up the patchiness elsewhere in the script. A little research goes a long way; a little respect for history goes further still.
West and Colman bring moments of pathos and humour as the royal couple, but even those moments can feel forced. Murray grins his way through this mess, chomping his cigarette holder with gritted teeth in a surprisingly uninteresting performance, all affectation and little insight. He must have realized what kind of a disaster he’d signed up for as soon as he arrived on set, and decided not to give a damn. At its best, Hyde Park On Hudson is a forgettable curio. At its worst, it’s a downright insulting farce.