When I was a young kid, my grandfather would occasionally mention having seen a mature drama, something with a lot of senior appeal, like Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. As a burgeoning film aficionado, I’d innocently ask, “How was it?” Without so much as looking my way, my grandfather would emphatically state, “Too deep for you.” If he were here today, that’s probably exactly what he’d say about Hyde Park on Hudson.
I’m sure there are some folks who find this historical drama about Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray, of all people) having an alleged romance with his fifth cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), to be a gently romantic work of quiet dignity. I found it to be a crushing, utterly inconsequential bore. First of all, I understand that Suckley’s personal journals and diaries served as the foundation for Richard Nelson’s screenplay. Apparently she had a “special relationship” with FDR and kept quiet about it during her 99-year life. These personal writings were discovered after her death. Turning them into a movie (with untold additional speculation) feels, in a way, like a posthumous intrusion of privacy.
It’s summer of 1939. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) are depicted as living somewhat separate lives—contentedly enough, though Franklin longs for an emotionally deeper connection to someone. He summons his fifth cousin to his country estate in Hyde Park, New York. They begin a strangely muted relationship that hits a peak when FDR drives Suckley out to a remote clover field (“I’ve been saving this for you,” he tells her) and then, without warning, whips out his member for a handjob. How romantic.
Let me cut right to the chase and explain the primary reason why Hyde Park is such a spectacular failure. As a character, Margaret Suckley is a cipher. Linney is given very little to work with, despite a copious amount of expository voiceover. We see a waifish wallflower who relishes the president’s attention. King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) come to visit the Roosevelts, just months prior to the start of World War II. Suckley doesn’t quite know how to feel, caught between being an invited guest and something of a distraction. During a formal banquet for the King and Queen, Suckley is stuck outside with the servants. The filmmakers don’t make her sympathetic (or three-dimensional) enough for us to care.
Murray isn’t given much to do either, leaving little impression as FDR. Obviously an essential figure in U.S. and world history, here we see the four-term president in a paper-thin story so weightless it begs the question of why anyone thought it needed to be told. As for George and Elizabeth, who spend too much time discussing the possible ulterior motives behind the Roosevelts’ choice of food for the big picnic (hot dogs), they bicker and gripe about how they’re being treated. “Your brother would never stand for this,” Elizabeth continually scolds her husband. For an infinitely superior movie about these two, see The King’s Speech instead.
Whatever I might think of the movie itself, the Blu-ray is a sumptuous visual feast. England stands in for upstate New York, with breathtakingly detailed pastoral landscapes captured by cinematographer Lol Crawley. Black levels are solid, especially during the nighttime sequences. This is a subtly stunning presentation. Less outwardly attention-getting is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which excels in as much as the dialogue is clear and always at an appropriate volume. A few crowd scenes offer some gentle rear channel ambience, but it’s nothing to get excited about.
There are a few supplemental features included that will be of interest primarily to those truly taken by Hyde Park. Best is a commentary by director Roger Michell with producer Kevin Loader. Beyond that there’s a deleted scenes reel, a short EPK featurette, and a strange audio-only segment called “First Days.” Michell delivers a monologue of sorts that mixes anecdotal details of making the film with his own personal experiences. The audio plays over a still photo of Michell. Couldn’t they have filmed him talking so there would at least be something to look at?
Hyde Park on Hudson is a stilted, constipated waste of time that offers very little of interest about the lives of its characters (based on fact, but impossible to know how accurately). The best thing I can say about the film, aside from the gorgeous cinematography, is that it runs a relatively brief 95 minutes. Then again, perhaps it was just too deep for me.