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Hyde Park on Hudson (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 97 minutes.

Not for children.

This is a terrific biographical drama concentrating on one incident in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Bill Murray) term in office. The B story is a meeting with the relatively new King and Queen of England at Roosevelt's Hyde Park home. But the A story is about Roosevelt's alleged serial philandering, although, except for his relationship with Lucy Mercer there is no factual evidence that he actually engaged in sexual relations with anyone else, although there certainly is a lot of speculation.

It's an odd fact of history that Democratic presidents seem to be unable to keep their marital vows. In addition to Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton are uncontested masters of marital infidelity. Republicans, on the other hand, with the possible exception of President Dwight D Eisenhower, have been remarkably faithful to their wives, witness Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the two Bushes. I'll leave it to the reader to determine if there is any correlation between marital fidelity or infidelity and presidential competence.

Brilliantly directed by Roger Michell from a fine script by Richard Nelson, the story is set in June, 1939 and is described by producer David Aukin as a "fiction based on real events." The real events are the first visit by a ruling British monarch to the United States and FDR's randiness.

What's truly fascinating about this film is the way Michell and Nelson bring out the characters of these huge historical figures and picture them as normal human beings with all the character traits a normal human being might have.

The "fiction" part of it is the supposition that Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney) was one of FDR's mistresses. In the film, Daisy, a fifth cousin to FDR, is summoned by the President to Hyde Park. Murray beautifully captures FDR's famous charm as he slowly seduces Daisy. Linney, for her part, ably shows how she timidly, but not so reluctantly, succumbs. This affair was unknown until Daisy passed away in her hundredth year in 1991 and her intimate letters to and from FDR and her diaries recording in detail their relationship were discovered.

All this provide trappings for the Royal visit. Samuel West and Olivia Coleman portray the stuttering King, Bertie, and his Royal wife, Elizabeth, in a way that shows their befuddlement with American ways and also shows how dubious they were of the way they were being treated.

The cinematography (Lol Crawley) of the beautiful locations is gorgeous, as are the Production Design (Simon Bowles), Art Decoration (Hannah Moseley), and Set Decoration (Celia Boback). This is a film that seems to been made with a lot of love and attention to detail.

Quite simply, this is a captivating movie. There are so many good things I could say about it, but it's better to just go and see it and enjoy it as it unfolds. In one of the final scenes Bertie is shown taking home movies. The actual home movies he took are shown under the end credits, so don't race out of the theater when the film fades to black. There is a remarkable resemblance between FDR's personal secretary, Missy (real name Margaret LeHand), and the actress portraying her, Elizabeth Marvel. In the quick shots we see from the King's films, they look almost identical.

November 21, 2012