2012 may be the year of the president. With it being an election year, two of the fall film season’s biggest prestige pictures involve two of this nation’s most influential commanders-in-chief. Steven Spielberg set his sights on one Abraham Lincoln with his brilliant biopic, Lincoln, with Venus helmer Roger Michell taking a look into one fateful event in the life of former president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Entitled Hyde Park On Hudson, Michell’s new film looks at not only the relationship that the legendary FDR held with his distant relative Margaret Stuckley, but a weekend that saw he and his nation play host to the UK’s king and queen (yes, that very same royal duo at the core of the vastly superior The King’s Speech). Starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney, the stately drama may be one of the prettier releases this holiday season, but it may very well be one of the weakest and least inspired or inspiring.
Narratively, the film is stagnant. Penned by Richard Nelson, the film has all the makings for something immensely intriguing. At the core is not a budding romantic relationship between FDR and Stuckley, but instead a light and trivial romance between a president and a smitten maid. However, in the periphery, the relationship between FRD and the king, ‘Bertie,’ is full of life and their interchanges are the film’s strongest sequences. The screenplay is haphazard at best, and full of empty moments holding little to no emotional weight or depth.
Starring Bill Murray, he is not only the only true redeeming aspect of the cast, but he proves that he’s every bit as talented a screen actor as he’s been in ages. He isn’t asked to do a great deal on screen, but particularly during his sequences with Samuel West’s Bertie, the film truly pops. Laura Linney is wasted here as Daisy, and the supporting cast isn’t much better. The likes of Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman and even West himself give minor performances here, never giving the film the room it needs to breath or truly get out of the starting blocks.
Best known for films like Venus, Changing Lanes and Notting Hill, this may be one of Michell’s stronger directorial efforts. Paired perfectly with Lol Crawley’s beautiful, but cartoonishly dignified, photography, Hyde Park On Hudson is elevated beyond your standard presidential biopic into something more intriguing, at least aesthetically. Michell’s camera is ever flowing, framing our lead as a man who demands the grandest of respect, able to control a room from no place other than the nearest chair. FDR was a towering man without ever being able to truly tower above another man, and Michell’s frame is able to evoke that to a startling degree.
With beautiful production design from Simon Bowles and art direction from Hannah Moseley and Mark Raggett, Hyde Park On Hudson is a gorgeous and expertly crafted bit of melodrama that attempts to tell the tale of a torrid love affair but instead only disappoints by turning to light of a focus to the true relationship at hand. For a film that attempts to tell the story of both a president and a king as well as a president and a mistress, neither narrative feels fleshed out, lively or at all important. Instead, the film becomes the equivalent of eating a hotdog during a festive weekend escape: fun and entertaining, but ultimately empty and disappointing.
Hyde Park On Hudson opens Friday in select theaters.