The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Review: Hyde Park On Hudson (UK Cert 12A)

Earlier this year, whilst the epic Lincoln was still in the cinemas, another biopic of an important American President came and went with very little fanfare. 

Hyde Park On Hudson tells the story of the important meeting of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and King George VI (Samuel West) at Roosevelt's country retreat in New York during June 1939, which led to America's involvement in the Second World War. However, it's not just about that pivotal weekend- it also delves into Roosevelt's private life, insinuating an affair with his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). I really wanted to like this film but walked away from it feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

The main problem I had with Hyde Park On Hudson was that it didn't seem to know what it wanted to be. Was it a straight biopic of FDR? A period piece about the meeting between the King of Great Britain and the President of the United States? A foreigners-abroad comedy? A country-house comedy of manners? A personal relationship drama? It tries to be all of these things (and succeeds at some whilst failing at others) but there's a jarring shift in tonality when the separate strands cross over. 

The film is narrated by Daisy. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with films that use omniscient narrators. The first rule of successful creative writing is show, don't tell. An omniscient narrator can sometimes be a shorthand way of telling the story which works in some films and doesn't in others. This falls into the latter category. The main problem is that Daisy narrates events that she wasn't present at. Linney does her best with the material she's given but Daisy is written as a bit of a wet lettuce, simply mooning after FDR and (rather hypocritically) playing the injured party when it's revealed there is another 'other woman' in his life.

Performances are generally strong across the board. Murray leads from the front, playing FDR as an avuncular rogue with a twinkle in his eye. He's charismatic without necessarily always being likeable and there's an after-dinner scene between him and Samuel West which is just superb. As George VI, West avoids coming off as a Colin Firth imitation (which is great) but is still initially lumbered with a stiff-upper-lip caricature. Luckily, that wears off during the course of the film. The relationship between George and Queen Elizabeth is strained by the trip, with Elizabeth worrying about the Americans making fun of them but also undermining George by comparing him to his brother. Luckily, Olivia Colman is playing Elizabeth and she is an actress who can elevate whatever she's given to make it something better than it is. There's also a nice (if underwritten) role for Olivia Williams, playing the formidable First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

It's a relatively short film (94 minutes) so doesn't outstay its welcome. The most successful parts of the film for me where the parts regarding the royal visit. More focus on that and less on the frankly tedious relationship side would have made it stronger. It's not a complete washout but certainly isn't greater than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


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