★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Opens at Enzian Theater Friday, Dec. 21
When one thinks of our nation's most powerful president, chances are Bill Murray doesn't come to mind. Yet Hyde Park on Hudson succeeds not in spite of, but largely because of, Murray's endearing, if slightly unbelievable, performance as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) helms the British-made project, which has a decidedly English feel, despite its setting at Hyde Park, Roosevelt's rural New York home. But perhaps that's fitting, as the movie's focal point is the historic 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, played wonderfully by revered English actors Samuel West and Olivia Colman.
The royal visit may the film's main event, but the emphasis is rightly placed on the relationship between F.D.R. and his sixth cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, who also provides the movie's intermittent voice-over narrative. Played with honesty and a certain quiet sadness by Laura Linney, Daisy illuminates the personal side of the president, who cherished Hyde Park as a place that helped him "forget the weight of the world."
Also helping relieve that weight was Daisy herself, who is portrayed as more than a friend. Indeed, the screenplay by Richard Nelson, based on the private journals of Suckley, pulls few punches in depicting Roosevelt's love affairs. Admittedly, history is murky regarding the actual nature of the president's relationships with his close female friends, but, remarkably, the film manages to speculate on this seedy side of Franklin in a way that seems both consistent with history and reverential to the man himself.
Much of that is due to Murray's charisma and his ability to show a side of Roosevelt that we've never seen on film before, even if his dialect is a tad inconsistent. The president's father-like encouragement of the new, insecure king is particularly touching and sheds welcome light on a moment in history that seems almost forgotten today. Those scenes of the old president and young king turn an otherwise simple, easily forgettable film into a sweet and slightly charming anecdote.
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