Even Bill Murray can’t save this directionless royal romp, which tries to ride the frilly coat-tails of The King's Speech.
Even before it leaves the starting blocks, Hyde Park On Hudson has the odds stacked against it. Though it’s set across the pond, chronologically speaking, it picks up where The King’s Speech left off – leading many to accuse it of riding on the earlier film’s frilly coattails and cynically groping for Oscar glory.
That seems a little unfair, as director Roger Michell has said the film was in the works long before The King’s Speech was even written. So we ought to judge it on its own terms, right?
On the one hand, Hyde Park On Hudson is the everywoman tale of Margaret ‘Daisy’ Stuckley (Laura Linney), the fifth and weirdly naïve cousin of the ageing Franklin Roosevelt, who, as this film has it, was thrust into the then-President’s inner circle after becoming entranced by his stamp collection (no, that's not a euphemism).
Their affair frames the dramatic centrepiece, which is the 1939 encounter between George VI and Roosevelt that famously marked the first visit of an English King to a US President. Apparently, it was a forum for running jokes about how we Brits don’t vote for our king and much royal outrage at the prospect of being served hotdogs at an official celebratory lunch.
The problem is, there’s no discernible reason why these two threads could or should tie together. Dramatically, one has no significant impact on the other. It’s the stuff of warmly anachronistic, tea-time comedy: a cheeky but ultimately reverential take on the unlikely coming together of two historical figures (here The King’s Speech comparisons become inevitable), which paved the way for the Special Relationship.
Daisy’s story, meanwhile, smoothed over by Linney’s treacly voiceover and steeped in sun-dappled nostalgia, is played as a bittersweet romance – but this carefree tone sits uneasily with the facts, even as screenwriter Richard Nelson would have them.
One example of this is Daisy’s painful discovery that she’s merely one in a line of Roosevelt’s extra-marital props (a potentially disposable one at that). Though ultimately she, like this film, struggles to even begin getting her head around the complexities of the Roosevelts’ romantic peccadillos, not least Eleanor’s alleged lesbian affairs.
It’s a shame, because had Nelson’s script (adapted from his original radio play) succeeded in disentangling these two elements, Hyde Park On Hudson could have had the makings of a captivating historical drama. As it is, the film constantly falls between two stalls, making little of its brilliant cast along the way.
Granted, Bill Murray gets a fair crack of the whip as the formidable but physically vulnerable FDR, but Olivia Williams (Eleanor) and Olivia Colman (the Queen Mother) are resigned to polite scenery-chewing and tea-sipping. It doesn’t help that the film proceeds at the pace of a wizened tortoise; like cinematic soma, it seems out to sedate the viewer into submission.
Led by Jeremy Sam’s overbearingly insipid score, everything on its surface seems to yell 'Drink me!' as though it were a hearty mug of warming, Academy-blend cocoa. Just mind it doesn’t catch in your throat.
Typical. You wait bloody ages for a biopic of George VI and then…
Okay, so it’s not actually another biopic of George VI. But it might make you never want to eat a hotdog again.
A frustrating, wasted opportunity, destined to remain in the shadow of its cinematic sibling.