Following the soggy playbook of last year’s equally dismissible My Week with Marilyn, director Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson supposedly chronicles the momentous first meeting of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Britain’s King George VI, but all that’s just background noise. Really, the movie is about how FDR’s dowdy distant cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), had a schoolgirl crush on the commander-in-chief.
An aging spinster summoned to the country estate owned by FDR’s nagging mother, Daisy goes for long afternoon drives with the president, admires his stamp collection and ends up giving him the ickiest on-screen handjob this side of The Master. She’s over the moon with girlish adoration, and watching the almost 50-year-old Linney carry on like an inarticulate, lovestruck teenager makes us wonder if Daisy might have a few more problems than the film is letting on.
In an improbable bit of casting, Bill Murray plays FDR. He’s canny enough to understand that we’re never going to forget we’re watching Bill Murray, so instead of trying a full-on impersonation, he just keeps his chin tilted up and slightly affects an accent. It’s a pretty good performance, with a fair amount of mystery preserved behind his smiling eyes.
The middle chunk of Hyde Park on Hudson is for all intents and purposes a mini-sequel to The King’s Speech, as the stammering monarch arrives hat in hand to solicit America’s assistance in World War II. The film all too briefly becomes a comedy of manners, with both hosts and guests puzzling over logistics and formalities, while FDR insists on serving the monarchs hot dogs for lunch. These are the most entertaining scenes in the picture, and they tellingly have nothing to do with Daisy. She’s just standing around out in the yard, pining for the president while all the important stuff happens indoors.
Alas, we’re soon back to Daisy’s sappy romantic woes, and the none too shocking revelation that’s she’s not the only lucky lady to get an up-close and personal look at FDR’s stamp collection. Taking great pains to remain inoffensive, Hyde Park wears its slightness on its sleeve. But even Daisy herself might wonder why anybody would want to make a movie about her.