Franklin Roosevelt was among America’s most patrician and aristocratic presidents, but the surprisingly randy period comedy-drama Hyde Park On Hudson posits him as a flask-toting, hard-drinking slob whose common touch, wandering eye for the ladies, and unabashed eccentricities offend King George VI’s snobby wife during their visit to FDR’s country estate in 1939, on the eve of World War II. Hyde Park On Hudson once again finds Meatballs star Bill Murray leading a populist, crowd-pleasing slobs-vs.-snobs comedy, but this time, his role as Roosevelt reflects his status as a silver-haired heavyweight thespian.
Hyde Park On Hudson is told from the perspective of a mousy distant cousin of Roosevelt’s, played by Laura Linney, who becomes his faithful companion and then his mistress after giving him what could very well be the most tastefully shot, artfully middlebrow handjob in film history. Linney blooms under the tutelage of her powerful mentor, and her place in his heart and bed affords her a front-row seat to history when the royals come to visit. The Roosevelts’ unconventional ways offend the proper, convention-bound Queen Elizabeth, but the polio-stricken president and the stuttering king of England discover they have much in common, from strong-willed wives to disabilities to shared decency.
Director Roger Michell was fearless and uncompromising in his exploration of the dark, ugly, and pathological side of sex and love in his intense psychodramas Enduring Love and The Mother, both of which starred Daniel Craig. Here he opts for a softer, safer approach that’s initially playful and spry, thanks largely to Murray and Linney’s fine performances, but ultimately blunts the story’s sharp edges and lets Murray’s womanizer-in-chief off easy. Roosevelt’s sleeping around leaves all manner of emotional collateral damage in his wake, but all it seems to take is the twinkly gleam in his eye and a warm smile to make everything right again. Hyde Park On Hudson depicts Roosevelt as a boozy adulterer, but it nevertheless tilts heavily towards hagiography. Like the women who loved and revered him, the film forgives Roosevelt’s transgressions all too easily when it would be better off holding him accountable for the complicated, sometimes painful consequences of his actions.