“Hyde Park on Hudson” fails to finish strong

While historical dramas have excelled in years past––especially in light of the recent Oscar nominations for “Lincoln”––”Hyde Park on Hudson” collapses after a promising beginning.

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Photo Courtesy of Focus Features

Bill Murray stars as President FDR in the historical drama “High Park on Hudson”

Emily Kline, Humor Editor

In recent years, historical dramas have ruled supreme in awards season, be it “Lincoln”––which holds 10 Academy Award nominations––or the Oscar darling of 2011, “The King’s Speech.” The next in this line of true story films, “Hyde Park on Hudson,” initially shows promise, but overall fails to tell a cohesive story, despite its stellar cast.

Set on the brink of the United States’ entrance into WWII, “Hyde Park” depicts the bond between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney), his distant cousin. The movie takes place during a visit from King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to Roosevelt’s retreat in Hyde Park, where they persuade him to join the war. At the same time, Daisy’s relationship––no longer just friendship––with Roosevelt becomes complicated when she realizes she’s not his only mistress.

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The movie starts out strong, introducing the major characters and plotlines in an engaging way. Bill Murray quickly establishes himself as FDR, exploring the personality behind one of WWII’s biggest players while he’s on vacation in the New York countryside. Breathtaking cinematography shows Daisy and FDR on winding drives through woodlands and fields of wildflowers, but an uncomfortable encounter in the car prompts both to agree on a purely platonic relationship. By the time the King and Queen arrive, the movie seems to be shaping up for an entertaining dramedy about friendship between nations as well as people.

Unfortunately, everything that makes the first half encouraging ends up collapsing in the second. The rapport between Samuel West, the nervous new king living in his brother’s shadow, and Bill Murray’s laidback FDR is so engrossing that Daisy becomes completely sidelined. But at the end of FDR’s personal scenes with young George VI––who likens his stutter to the president’s polio––the plot returns to Daisy, bringing the entire momentum of the movie down.

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Daisy just isn’t as interesting as any of the other characters. Although Laura Linney carries her subdued but sympathetic performance throughout the movie, the supporting characters––the King and Queen, most notably––overshadow her, making the audience bored whenever time is allotted for her story. One of the biggest disappointments comes from Olivia Williams’s lack of screen time as Eleanor Roosevelt, a much more three-dimensional character.

Another major problem with the script involves the revelation of Roosevelt’s multiple mistresses towards the end of the movie. This discovery by Daisy is unexpected due to its overdramatic reveal––not to mention the fact that it’s not foreshadowed in the least––and also feels forced given what the audience has seen of FDR’s relationship with Daisy. Throughout the movie, their bond appears nonsexual, even with a car scene seeming to directly establish it as friendly alone. Switching sides so suddenly confuses the audience, further alienating them towards the pair and causing them to question the first two thirds of the movie.

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The film then ends abruptly after the royals’ departure––again, with Samuel West and Olivia Colman being the highlights of a humorous hotdog picnic scene––leaving the plot feeling incomplete. Even Daisy’s moral dilemma with Roosevelt’s affairs quickly resolves itself, and little insight is given to his reasons for them; a topic that could’ve been explored further to fit into the story. Instead, Roosevelt never speaks of it, Eleanor’s feelings are limited to one sentence, and Daisy barely pretends her discovery ever happened.

Although the plot doesn’t work on a variety of levels, funny scenes between the more than capable actors help keep viewers entertained. The movie works more when it is comedic, especially in the interactions between the amiable, wise-cracking FDR and the straight-laced British nobles. Bill Murray especially strikes the right chord between a lighthearted man and a decisive world leader, reminding viewers that he’s more than just a comic actor.

Despite its cast and subject potential, “Hyde Park on Hudson” falls far short of its goal and becomes merely mediocre. Although the performances help make up for a muddled plot, this presidential drama doesn’t live up to its hype, not warranting a must-see rating.