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Thursday, September 27, 2012

HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Comedian Bill Murray turns serious in his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the weekend visit  of King George VI (Samuel West)  and his wife Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to his mother's home at Hyde Park.

While beautifully costumed, set designed and photographed, the emphasis of the film is the relationship between FDR and his sixth cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.  Although she hadn't seen FDR in years, when summoned to Springfield, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, Daisy went and became a rather constant companion to the most powerful man in the nation.

By now we all know that FDR was no saint and had numerous affairs with his secretaries, cousins and various other females with whom he came into contact.  Developed from letters discovered after she passed away, the story shows Daisy as an individual who helped the President relax and forget about his worldly problems while his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) and her "she-men" friends were busy doing other things.

According to the story, Daisy has to learn to share FDR with his secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel) and some other possible paramours as well as the official visitors and statesmen.  It's a difficult thing for her to accept but according to the information on which the film is based, she eventually swallowed her pride and her jealousy and did so, becoming one of several sexual liaisons..

Director Robert Michell does an admirable job of directing this complex story with an outstanding group of actors. Especially appealing are the scenes between the King and the President, with war hovering in the wings, as they seek to form a friendship and an alliance. According to this story, it's the weekend of that which solidified the friendship between the two world leaders and led to agreement that the United States would support and fight with Great Britain in WWII.

With both FDR and Daisy deceased, the veracity of the affair cannot be verified.  Under those circumstances one has to wonder whether it's fair and tasteful to disparage a man as important as FDR.  So much has already been written about his philandering, is another film on the subject really necessary?

Additionally, since we know the Royals employ a staff that does advance research prior to their trips and supplies them with current information on where they are going and what the customs are there, it's somewhat hard to believe that the King and Queen as portrayed in this film would be so completely oblivious to basic American foods (i.e. hot dogs) and customs (i.e. picnics).

The film's positive side is that it shows a man who never wallows in self-pity despite his affliction from polio.  While he doesn't advertise his affliction, he doesn't hide away from public responsibilities either.  Never expecting to be treated differently, Murray's FDR appears to be at home in a world full of turmoil and trouble.  He adapts to his situation via some adjustments to his living and driving arrangements but otherwise acts just as you would except a non-handicapped individual to act.  In fact, his philandering is very much a "normal" non-handicapped endeavor.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at a small segment of FDR's life.  Focus Films appears to have a winner here in a film that is gaining popularity and a cast that gives outstanding portrayals.