Perhaps it is simply coincidence that in the space of seven days, two films have been released about American history, and in particular, American presidents. One being Hyde Park on Hudson and the other Spielberg’s Lincoln, almost certain to be a big winner come the Oscars later this month and deservedly so; it is a remarkable piece of cinema. It is slightly saddening that with all the hype surrounding that wonderful blockbuster, this substantially lower-key film will remain in its shadow for the duration of its cinematic release. I personally have always liked an underdog.
Indeed, there is much here to be liked. Hyde Park on Hudson centres around Daisy, played by Laura Linney, the fifth cousin of President FDR – a wonderful performance from Bill Murray, that master of deadpan. The President is ageing, and wishes to get to know his far-removed relation better and a lot more intimately during his stay at Hyde Park on Hudson. This is also the setting of the meeting between the President and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first English monarchs ever to visit America.
This is a gentle, sweet film; the comedic moments are deftly managed with most supplied by the ostensibly awkward contrast between American humour and that of the very nervous young King and Queen (in outstanding performances from Samuel West and in particular, Olivia Colman – a veritable scene stealer if ever there was one). I have no doubt that a much more serious and profound film could have been made about the events we see on screen here, and may have been more successful as a result. However, the atmosphere is consistent, and there is a fleetingly darker sequence in the middle that adds a piquant flavouring much needed to pierce beneath the fluffy surface.
Don’t be fooled however, this is not the highly cerebral drama that Lincoln proves to be. It is a jolly slice of light entertainment, easily digestible with an understated tinge of the feel-good factor. There are small problems with pacing, after a formidably handled opening sequence, culminating in the awkward first meeting of Daisy and Franklin at Hyde Park, their budding relationship – despite the development the audience’s intrigue demands – is only shown in a quick montage with the token narration over it. A more direct approach was needed to pull this off, there is a genuine emotional centre missing from those early scenes as a result. Indeed, considering the film as a whole, a more piercing and discerning piece of writing may have made for a more satisfactory end product. The world that it depicts is fascinating, so why not explore it with as much depth as you can?
However, this being said, Hyde Park on Hudson is still a thoroughly decent film, a pleasant time-killer and a more than adequate piece of entertainment, with wonderful acting and great cinematography all round. And who would have thought they would have had the gall to ask the English Queen, so used to fine dining, to consider eating a hot dog, eh?
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (February ’13)
Hyde Park on Hudson is certainly a visually intriguing film; the colour schemes and costume departments have indeed done a spectacular job. The acting is spearheaded by the tremendous Murray and laced with gentle, good natured humour. But, alas, it isn’t completely without fault…
Bill Murray plays the president himself; a man crippled with polio but a great leader nevertheless. He provided the complete opposite of Hoover’s rugged individualism; devoted to giving the best help he could to revive America from depression. This film, however, focuses on the man himself, his charisma and boundless personality. That, and his tastes in various women, specifically a secret relationship between himself and his fifth cousin Daisy.
The film may at first glance seem rather lingering and threadbare, the scenes between Roosevelt and his fifth cousin alone become rather tedious. However, once the humour sparks up and more intricate characters are introduced, Hyde Park on Hudson releases its true charm. Some great, genuinely funny yet quite subtle jokes are brilliantly executed, for example the sly pot shots at the English monarchy as the future king munches on a hot dog splattered in mustard.
In terms of plot it seems rather basic, to me it skirts around the edges of more important matters of the day. Faults aside, the film is sweet and remains in good taste.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Paddy Johnson (February ’13)