Tuesday, 26 March 2013
FILM REVIEW: HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Icon Film Distribution
The King's Speech has much to answer for, and I don't mean for denying David Fincher a Best Director Oscar. I suspect the only reason Roger Michell's period dramedy, Hyde Park on Hudson, was greenlit was because it features the same stuttering king, George VI, who was the central figure in that Oscar-winning film.
Hyde Park on Hudson is about the 1939 meeting of two heads of State -- the President of the United States and the King of England -- on the eve of World War II, but Michell, and screenwriter Richard Nelson, seem to have spun that detail out and attached it to another story: the sexual peccadilloes of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray). They've also chosen to play it for laughs. They chose wrong.
The events of Hyde Park on Hudson (the title, mentioned repeatedly in the film, refers to the country residence of Roosevelt) are narrated by Daisy (Laura Linney), a mousy fifth or sixth cousin of the President who has the "good" fortune to live close by to HPOH, and is called upon by Mrs. Roosevelt (Elizabeth Wilson), the First Mother, to be a companion of sorts to her son.
Daisy stays close to FDR's side and accompanies him on drives through the countryside, where she soon learns that she wasn't invited to provide just intellectual stimulation for the President. But after an awkward hand job in a field of flowers, Daisy declares herself and her cousin to be "the best of friends". (I love Laura Linney but her omnipotent-like narration borders on Forrest Gump naivete.)
It seems that despite being wheelchair-bound, the President is still very much a pants man, and apparently having sexual relations with every woman bar his wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), which the film none-too-subtly suggests is of a Sapphic persuasion.
But sexual misadventures are to be swept under the rug with the arrival of the royals, King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), who've come to solicit the support of the United States should war breakout in Europe. It's unfortunate that West and Colman have to portray characters who were so recently, and adeptly, done so by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter.
Even more unfortunate is that they are reduced to comic caricatures, Elizabeth more so than George. A running obsession with a scheduled picnic's inclusion of hot dogs on the menu is no doubt supposed to be funny but it just becomes increasingly annoying each time Elizabeth mentions it, almost suffering a panic attack each time she does.
Indeed, everything about the tone of Hyde Park on Hudson seems misjudged and, as comedy, mistimed. The rare moments of drama don't work well given the lead balloons that are dropped frequently throughout. That's a shame because Linney, Murray and Colman are terrific actors who could have done so much more if they were given so much more to work with. Murray comes off the best, curbing Roosevelt's sleaziness with a 'can do' charm.
Sadly, that attitude doesn't pervade the rest of the film. Michell, no stranger to comedy (Notting Hill) or drama, can't seem to get the balance right rendering Hyde Park On Hudson more of an oddity than a history lesson, one far more hamstrung than either of its handicapabale leading men.