Blu-ray Review: HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

hydeparkHyde Park on Hudson had all the makings of a prestige picture. It’s based on a true story, features an A-list cast, and helmed by a prominent British director in Roger Michell (Notting Hill). Yet, the film was quietly forgotten during awards season, except for a Golden Globe nomination for Bill Murray’s performance as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR is ranked high in the presidential pantheon, right alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He served four consecutive terms as president and shepherded the country through the Great Depression and World War II. Hyde Park is an attempt to humanize FDR and explore the man behind the myth.

The title comes from Roosevelt’s childhood home in upstate New York that hosted a historic visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first time a presiding king had come to the United States. Screenwriter Roger Nelson was inspired to explore this intimate summit through the eyes of Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckey, after correspondence was discovered between the two that hinted at a possible relationship. Nelson originally wrote it as a radio play before adapting it for the big screen.

Laura Linney plays Daisy, a spinster living with her elderly mother, who is called to Hyde Park to ease the President’s mind from stately affairs. There’s an instant attraction between FDR and Daisy though the latter isn’t sure what to make of things considering the presence of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) and secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), who is also having a clandestine affair with the President. Amidst all the romantic entanglements come the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England who are hoping to beseech the Americans to join in the war effort against Nazi Germany.

Hyde Park isn’t an accurate portrayal of historical events, but a speculative dramatization. Though there’s no strong evidence to suggest FDR had affairs with Daisy or Missy, it’s been suspected for decades along with a previous affair with New York Post publisher Dorothy Schiff. FDR may be portrayed as a womanizer, but he doesn’t come off as a callous cad due to the likeability of lead actor Bill Murray. Murray doesn’t disappear into the role the way Daniel Day-Lewis did in Lincoln so much as he imbues FDR with the trademark Bill Murray wit and playfulness. Unfortunately, the filmmakers choose to focus on Daisy and Hyde Park grinds to a halt whenever she takes the spotlight. This is no knock on Laura Linney, a tremendously talented actress, but the script does its job too well in painting Daisy as a mousy wallflower to the point she becomes an utter cipher. By sticking with Daisy, the movie loses out on Eleanor Roosevelt’s feelings about her husband’s extramarital activities. It’s hinted that their marriage is nothing more than a political convenience, but Eleanor fades into the background for the most part. That’s a shame because Olivia Williams gives a forceful performance in the scant amount of scenes she is given.

Hyde Park picks up steam when the royals enter the picture. Their story could be seen as something of a sequel or companion piece to The King’s Speech. King George VI, who suffers from a terrible stammer, has awkwardly taken the crown following his older brother’s abdication. The Queen isn’t particularly fond of Americans and it’s clear that they don’t fit in. Her Royal Highness is apoplectic when the President insists on serving them cocktails and hot dogs. However, that hot dog turns out to be a clever gambit on FDR’s part to turn the King into a relatable Joe instead of a stuffed shirt. A father-son relationship emerges between the King and Roosevelt during a tender moment of bonding over their respective ailments. His Majesty bemoans his crippling speech impediment while Roosevelt points to his battle with polio.

Video/Audio: 8
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Cinematographer Lol Crawley shoots Hyde Park as a bright and cheerful picture full of sunshine and lush fields of green and yellow. He and Michell also favor the almost heavenly glow of soft lighting to certain moments.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Since this is a dialogue-heavy drama, the sound is rather low-key with only a few peaks from the jazzy soundtrack and a bumpy ride in FDR’s Ford Phaeton.

Extras: 3
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader, who discuss the differences between fact and fiction, the locations, recreating FDR’s custom roadster, and the difficulties of getting into contact with Bill Murray.

A Look Inside Hyde Park on Hudson (4:00) is a brief EPK-style look at the making of the movie.

First Days (13:50) is an audio-only featurette with Michell discussing his career as a director and the initial days of production on the film.

Rounding out the extras is a collection of deleted scenes.

Film Value: 4
In spite of a quick 90 minute runtime, Hyde Park on Hudson was one of the most laboriously tedious movies I’ve experienced in a while. There are sporadic splashes of brilliance that are overshadowed by a dull protagonist and a myriad of subplots stumbling over one another.
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