Movie review: Hyde Park on Hudson

October 26, 2012 – If anyone told me a movie would be made about our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the man who led the United States during the Great Depression, and the only American president elected for more than two terms, and that he would be played by Bill Murray, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second.

Murray did a fine job crossing over to dramatic edgy roles that have a comic or odd/unique twist, yet there are times I still see him as the lounge lizard from “Saturday Night Live”. Still, that’s not his fault even though it was his impersonation of that character that made an impression on me.

“Hyde Park on Hudson”, last night’s centerpiece gala selection at the 21st annual Philadelphia Film Festival, was the surprise movie of the century for me, and I’m glad I was a part of it’s Philadelphia premier. It began like an episode of “Masterpiece Theater”, but quickly evolved into a charming story about one surprising weekend at FDR’s home away from the White House in upstate New York.

How could a movie go wrong with taglines like this? The President. The First Lady. The King. The Queen. The Mother. The Mistress…One weekend would unite two great nations…After cocktails of course.

Now, that’s intriguing.

Aside from Murray, whose performance is stunning, the film stars Olivia Williams, as the First Lady in a role that has her totally embracing the uniqueness and strength that was Eleanor Roosevelt, and the equally talented Laura Linney as FDR’s distant cousin, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley. I’ll admit it took me a little while to adjust to Bill Murray in the role, but he captured it and made me believe.

The story is told through Daisy’s eyes, and the premise is rather wild and yet based on true events; it’s a love story of sorts about FDR’s affair with his distant cousin in 1939, centered on the very weekend King George, the same one written about in “The King’s Speech” and Queen Elizabeth, also known as the Queen Mum, visited New York to ask for America’s help in the war they knew was coming.

Richard Nelson’s dramatic, charming and often witty script is loaded with zingers that tell the story huge culture clashes and of a few unusual friendships that form along the way. It certainly makes FDR seem like a likeable man, with a childlike playfulness, and not at all like the president I learned about in history class, who was supposedly anti-semitic (he refused a ship of Jewish passengers entrance to the U.S. when they tried to dock in Florida, and sent them back to Europe and concentration camps, and it’s been said that he often told Jews and Catholics alike that the U.S. was a protestant country, and that they were only guests in it. He was also the same president that clashed with Winston Churchill and voted with Stalin against Churchill, which some say gave Russia eastern Europe after the war. Still, fans of Murray won’t be disappointed, and I’d bet that fans of history wouldn’t be either.

So, let the Oscar buzz begin. This is the kind of script and cast of actors that Hollywood loves to celebrate with its highest honor.

“Hyde Park on Hudson” opens in limited release on December 7, and in wide release on December 26.

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