- Rated R
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
all it the King George VI effect or just pure coincidence, but Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson” is the third film in as many years to feature the British monarch in a leading or supporting role. Though Michell’s movie is actually about the 32nd U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, you wouldn’t know it by how effortlessly King George steals the show. Not that it’s very difficult in a film as surprisingly shallow as “Hyde Park on Hudson,” which would rather focus on something as frivolous as an affair than FDR’s many accomplishments as the only four-term president in our nation’s history.
The film stars Laura Linney as Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley, a distant cousin of FDR (Bill Murray) who's invited to his mother’s house in upstate New York one afternoon to provide him with some company. After the pair hits it off during a drive through the countryside, Daisy becomes a permanent fixture at the Roosevelts' Hyde Park estate, serving as FDR's confidant and mistress. His wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) may or may not know about the secret affair, but for one weekend in the summer of 1939, everyone’s attention is concentrated on the arrival of King George (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), who are visiting from the U.K. in an attempt to win FDR’s support with a second World War looming, even if that means eating a hot dog.
That last part might sound a little silly, but it’s an honest-to-goodness plot point in the story – one that director Roger Michell returns to almost obsessively over the course of the movie in the hopes of earning some laughs from Olivia Colman's uptight queen. Instead, it only goes to highlight the problems in Richard Nelson’s screenplay, which is bogged down by pointless subplots and a general lack of direction. As a result, Michell can never seem to decide whose story he's telling – constantly jumping back and forth between Daisy, FDR and King George – and although the film is supposedly based on letters from Daisy discovered after her death, there are several important scenes where she’s not present, and therefore feel out of place in a story told from her point of view.
The movie would have been a total disaster if it weren’t for some solid performances from Laura Linney and Samuel West; particularly the latter, who does an excellent job playing King George VI despite being in the shadow of Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning portrayal in “The King’s Speech.” He’s the only interesting character in the entire film, and at times, it feels like Michell would rather be making a movie about him, especially when Bill Murray’s turn as the wheelchair-bound President fails to impress. At the very least, Michell should have spent more time exploring the relationship between FDR and King George than the President’s humdrum affair with Daisy, because as “Hyde Park on Hudson” bumbles its way through its sluggish 94-minute runtime, it becomes increasingly clear just how bland it is for a film featuring such colorful personalities.