Movie Talk

Indie Roundup: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

Movie Talk

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Photo: Focus Features

"Hyde Park on Hudson" is a movie that at first blush has all the hallmarks of a prestige awards-friendly movie. It stars a beloved veteran actor -- Bill Murray -- playing an even more beloved American legend -- FDR. It's set on Roosevelt's estate in upstate New York, giving the film shades of "Downton Abbey." And it features the same stuttering monarch from best-picture winner "The King's Speech." Yet beneath all that decorousness and good taste, there's something much more perverse than you might expect about this movie. (Note: spoilers ahead.)

The film opens with Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant relative of FDR, getting a call from his mother saying that he needs someone to take his mind off the nation's troubles while he's at Hyde Park. She arrives in FDR's study looking nervous and insecure, but Roosevelt's boundless charm wins her over. Soon she's looking at his stamp collection, going along on meandering drives with him, and eventually helping him to polish the ol' presidential seal, as it were.

[Related: 'Hyde Park on the Hudson' shows FDR's complicated private life]

FDR was probably our first bohemian president. He had a number of lovers orbiting around him, including his secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), while his wife, Eleanor, lived in a separate house with a similar number of female admirers, many of whom apparently liked to make furniture. Daisy quickly falls in with the Roosevelt household, entertaining the president whenever he's not in Washington.

That's the first third or so of the movie. The rest of "Hyde Park" takes place during the historic visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Hyde Park. It was the first time that a British monarch visited Britain's former colony, and they were doing so essentially with hat in hand, hoping that America could save Britain from Hitler's growing threat. The young King George arrives in FDR's study looking every bit as nervous and needy as Daisy had earlier. What follows is a strange sort of political seduction that very much echoes FDR's of Daisy. He shows King George his stamp collection; he takes him along with Elizabeth on long drives in the country. And in the end, the movie's dramatic tension hinges on whether FDR can charm the king of England into eating a hot dog. Yes, a hot dog. And director Roger Michell films the wieners -- slathered in mustard, arching upward -- that seems remarkably, well, phallic.

[Related: Indie Roundup: 'Killing Them Softly']

It should be noted that this historic meeting sealed the "special relationship" between the U.K. and the U.S. that still exists today. One can't help but see this movie as less a story about the 32nd president and more a cheeky political allegory about the state of Anglo-American relations. One of these days, Roosevelt will get the grand, epic movie -- like "Lincoln" -- that a president of his stature deserves. This isn't it. It is, however, a much stranger movie than you might think at first glance.

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See a clip from 'Hyde Park on Hudson':
'Hyde Park on Hudson' Clip: Proud