Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
Director: Roger Michell
Writer: Richard Nelson
Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
Power corrupts. The thing about seeing an American film about an American president is that it will always try and show them in a good light, at least a little bit, even if they were awful leaders. It’s the kind of patriotism I just haven’t grown up with. However, when growing up with American popular culture filtering in through the Australian television stations, music, films, etc etc., it’s hard not to understand what it means to be patriotic and to see the appeal of powerfully positioned men.
Hyde Park on Hudson is about Franklin D. Roosevelt and the weekend when the Queen and King of England came to visit. FDR (Bill Murray) is a president who made an impression. Married to one of the most outspoken and influential women in the 1940s-1950s, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), FDR was not the best of husbands. He had a string of lovers on the side, including his secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and his fifth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). The film centres on Daisy’s arrival into FDR’s world and the start of their friendship and their hidden love affair.
Linney is perfect in this film. Her portrayal of naive yet strong Daisy is powerfully moving. Her performance is what lifts this film out from the screen and into your mind. The politics, the power of situation, the tensions, the controversies all leave the moment Linney appears and you remember that this is a film about people, just people. It is about their fears, their lies, their love, their hardships, their sadness, their passions, and the power of people’s love and forgiveness.
There is however the little issue of the whole adultery thing, and the many mistresses FDR keeps. The film portrays FDR as a nice man to begin with, then slowly as you learn of the indiscretions of FDR. It turns him from being a nice man and a good president into a cruel lover and a manipulator of position. Bill Murray’s character development in the film is flawless as he holds FDR’s character intact from beginning to end never allowing you to second guess him. It makes it both hard and easy to despise him for cheating on a great woman. And I suppose that is what you are meant to feel, just as Daisy would have. It’s just that he manipulates all these women and then expects them to accept him and his “habits”. And so I hate him for that. But the movie is compelling towards FDR as a character and the women in his life are empowered in their own ways through his position and power.
A history lesson of a different sort, this film left me feeling like no great and powerful men are good and nice people. It’s disheartening and pessimistic I know but it’s the feeling I was left with even with the feeling of sadness for the state of the world.