Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)


This movie was recently recommended to me by a former friend.

Hyde Park on Hudson is a “biopic” of the crippled FDR (Bill Murray) during the days when (1) the stammerer King George VI (Samuel West) and the cold bitch Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visited Hyde Park to underscore for FDR that Great Britain would be lost to Nazi Germany in the oncoming war unless America supported her, and (2) FDR (it is claimed in the film) had a running affair with his distant cousin and sweetly shy Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney).

I’d rank it with such clunkers as The Queen, The Iron Lady and The King’s Speech.


First, reputable historians say that Hyde Park on Hudson isn’t accurate. (I don’t know why such historians bother. I’m sure they’re contacted by filmdom PR shills, and somehow they must think that accuracy matters to the people who turn out Hollywood biopics. You could argue that the historians are mere unwitting players here–alerting eager audiences to expect juicy tabloid excesses and allowing “intellectual” film critics to mention “historical inaccuracies” and appear discerning in otherwise fawning, promotional reviews. In short, All that world’s a stage.)

Second, the screenplay manages to trivialize everything about the people and the period. It rivals The Iron Lady, whose script finally isn’t about Margaret Thatcher but about dementia. (Prior to seeing that movie, I made a bet with an accompanying friend that Dr. Sanjay Gupta would make a cameo appearance in The Iron Lady and solemnly give the medical details. As I paid my friend on the sidewalk outside after the movie, and he counted the money carefully, he told me not to feel bad–he guessed Gupta had probably been excluded owing solely to a contractual problem.)

Third, and as related to the second point, viewers of Hyde Park on Hudson needn’t know of the Hudson River, FDR’s period in American history, true as well as untrue characterizations of Eleanor Roosevelt, the looming threat of war in Europe, who King George VI really was and, well, lots of other boring stuff. The screenwriter, Richard Nelson, who has taught drama at Yale and advises aspiring young screenwriters not to worry too much about “structure” and who has taken his share of “honors” for film writing, shows ingenuity in handling the nagging problem of what to do about the ominous shadow of Hitler in the period in question: that is to say, how will it be possible to emulate People magazine and Access Hollywood in portraying a philandering FDR and those stuck-up British Royals–a good old honest tabloid feast about Lonely Franklin with lots of inside gossip on the Royal Family–and yet have Hitler just across the way in Berlin driving around in those open Mercedes-Benz limousines and the jackboots in the streets and swastika banners and all that downer stuff? You know, the gathering storm. I mean, you can sense the enormous problem here for Nelson when you recall that the mad invader Hitler is at the root of the ostensible premise of Hyde Park on Hudson. Well, I was bowled over by Nelson’s solution: FDR was a stamp collector, and so Nelson has the (sweetly shy) Margaret “Daisy” flip through one of FDR’s stamp-collection volumes in their first scene alone together, under the warmly approving eyes of FDR, and lets the camera focus down on a number of rare stamps, most of them from Africa, until finally the camera stops on a stamp bearing Hitler’s face, at which instant Nelson brilliantly has FDR, now serious for only a second, say to Margaret “Daisy” that he hasn’t “yet” met Hitler. So…Hitler’s in the movie. OK? I mean, you can’t say he isn’t.

Fourth, it’s vital here to level important people. Nelson knows you do so by concentrating on a small interval in thelr lives of accomplishment, avoiding any sense of a panorama of achievements. Obviously, this ploy reduces almost any notable person’s stature.

The other business ploy here is: Let’s say 30% of the audience knows FDR was a president and that there was World War Two. They’ll like the period motifs–the clothes, cars and so on.

And the other 70%?

They’ll like the leveling.