If you think of storytelling as a three act play – in other words, something that has a beginning, a middle and an end – Hyde Park on the Hudson feels like a two act production; it has a beginning and a middle, but the third act is missing. Just when you think there’s perhaps another twenty minutes to go, the film just stops. It’s as though writer Richard Nelson forgot to include an end.
Based on a series of letters and private journals written by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sixth cousin, Margaret Suckley, Hyde Park on the Hudson has two running events. One is the visit of King George Vl of England and his wife, the Queen Consort Elizabeth who visited FDR’s country estate in Hyde Park, New York in the hope of bolstering American support as World War ll approached, and the other is about the love affair between FDR and his cousin.
Bill Murray plays FDR, and he’s very good. Here he carries no baggage from his comedic performances and instead makes a surprisingly convincing and highly entertaining Franklin D. Roosevelt. He’s the reason to see the film. When showing his collection of stamps to his cousin for the first time, Margaret (Laura Linney) notices that many of the global stamps carry images of famous world leaders. “I suppose you’ve met all of these,” she states when looking down at the collection. “Not all of them,” FDR responds glancing down at the image of Adolf Hitler in the German section.
Most of the film centers around the picnic given at FDR’s country estate by the Hudson as he entertains the royal couple from Gt. Britain. The King and Queen of England feel uncomfortable and out of place in this new and unfamiliar environment, particularly when they learn that the food of choice at the picnic will be something referred to as hot dogs. “Hyde Park is in London,” insists the queen in a private conversation with her husband. “It’s so confusing to me.”
owever, the real story of Hyde Park on the Hudson is the secret affair between FDR and Margaret Suckley. The end credits tell us that it wasn’t until Suckley’s death when the intimate details of her relationship with the country’s president were revealed. Evidently, no one knew about it, or was unaware of the depth of the relationship. As presented here it’s an uncomfortable bond, and to be honest, I’m not sure I wanted to know about it. The scene where Suckley shares a ride in FDR’s private car – a vehicle built specifically for the president that could be controlled only by hands – is particularly awkward.
As a slice of history, the story has no depth, and as a character study, you feel as if the film has only touched the surface. The moment the King and Queen leave the country estate and head back to Britain you’re lulled into the belief that you’re now about to find out a lot more of what happened between the president, his cousin and his wife, Eleanor. Now it’s going to get interesting, you think, but it doesn’t happen. The film fades to an end leaving you with the disquieting feeling of something missing, like a solid conclusion.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 95 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)