The Movie Man: "Hyde Park on Hudson" flaws make it only 2 stars
February 26, 2013, By Tim Fak, Usually after seeing a film, I have a pretty strong initial reaction as to how I felt about it. In fact, I often use the intensity of this reaction to help me gauge how to rate a film. if I feel very strongly it was good, it will obviously get a positive review. If I come out feeling like I just saw a stinker, it’s going to rate a poor write up. Although I’m sure this seems like common sense, I mention it here because occasionally I stumble across a film that leaves me with something of a confused reaction. Such is the case with this week’s film: "Hyde Park on Hudson", a film I have decidedly mixed feelings about. On the one hand it’s a well-made film. On the other it’s has some very deep flaws that seriously hamper its overall success.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" takes its primary inspiration from the writings and diaries of Daisy Suckley a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt who is reputed to have had an affair with him in the years up to and during World War II. The film limits itself to a brief period in 1939 when she spent time with him at his country estate. Perhaps owing to the fact that this plot is somewhat thin, the film also boasts a lengthy subplot regarding the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the estate in an attempt to improve relations between the US and Great Britain. Unfortunately these two plotlines often seem at odds with one another, and even taken together there’s barely enough material here to fill up the film’s running time. That said, I personally greatly preferred the plotline involving the royal visit to the one about the affair.
As with other films based around historical figures, this one greatly depends on the performance of the actor playing Roosevelt, in this case Bill Murray. Although most people still think of him as a comedic actor, Murray has spent a good portion of recent years amassing a fair amount of more serious performances. His work here continues this trend and he does ok, but that’s it, not great, just ok. It’s a decent performance, but I doubt it will go down in history as a particularly memorable one. Opposite Murray is Laura Linney who gives an equally competent but somewhat uninspired performance as Suckley.
In fairness, neither actor is given all that much to work with, so it’s probably not all their fault. Of somewhat more interest is Olivia Williams who plays an Eleanor Roosevelt considerably more lively than either of the leads. Really though, the two genuinely enjoyable performances in the film come from Samuel West and Olivia Colman as the royal couple. The pair has truly great chemistry together and exudes wit and charm whenever they are on screen. Frankly they were the only two characters that consistently held my interest.
So if the performances aren’t the strong point of "Hyde Park on Hudson", what is? To me, the answer would have to be the meticulous craft that clearly went into making the film. Virtually all the technical aspects are very well done. The look of the film perfectly captures the sense of time and place, which is important in a film so dependent on a particular historical context, and the production design is also extremely detailed.
Lest you think that this means "Hyde Park on Hudson" is all sizzle but no steak, I should state that there were some parts I really did enjoy. As I said above, the characters of the King and Queen are engaging and captivating and when they’re on screen the film takes on a wit and charm that’s just not there at other times. Their portion of the film is sometimes touching, often funny and always lively. Even Murray seems to be acting at a higher level in his scenes opposite the King. My first thought after seeing the film was that I wished the film had devoted more time to this plotline.
The other big flaw with "Hyde Park on Hudson" is that it just doesn’t have a strong narrative structure. It doesn’t really build to anything and ends very abruptly. The film may have gotten by with this if the characters or individual situations were more compelling, but as things were, the film seemed very thin at times.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" is rated R for mature thematic material and language. As R rated films go though, it’s pretty tame.
Overall, I’m not really sure how I feel about "Hyde Park on Hudson". On the surface, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much, but I do admire the craft that went into it, and I could easily see it appealing to some people. Still, I just can’t call this one a particularly good film, although I did enjoy watching the King of England scarf down a Hot Dog.
Rated 2 stars out of a possible 4.
Tim Fak is a graduate of Illinois State University's School of Fine Arts and has a passion for movies. firstname.lastname@example.org