It certainly doesn’t help matters that such a recent portrayal of King George VI – Best Picture and Actor winner The King’s Speech – looms large over this production. Seeing the stuttering King (nicknamed “Bertie”) overcome his neurosis and fears through FDR’s amiable cajoling seems rather trite in light of the more tortured journey of healing we saw Lionel Logue lead Bertie through in 2010’s beloved crowd-pleaser.

The cast has absolutley no chemistry. Linney’s Daisy, despite recalling these times with such fond affinity, is rather joyless. One wonders what Franklin even saw in her other than convenience and ease of manipulation. Her one outburst of conviction – when she calls out Franklin on his promiscuity – is all-too-quickly sublimated as she ultimately joins his other paramours as a willful enabler.

For his part as FDR, Murray is also one-note. The fact that he’s having fun is trumped by the role’s inherent misogyny. Samuel West is fine as Bertie but, again, pales to Colin Firth’s take by inevitable comparison. As Eleanor Roosevelt, Olivia Williams (Hanna) is hampered by a script and direction that reduces the famously formidable First Lady to being casually practical, even passive.

Never have so many pretentious airs been put on in the service of something so airheaded. Half of Hyde Park on Hudson is about the poetic whimsy of non-committal sex. The other half is a simplistic reduction of the first-ever meeting between a U.S. President and an English Monarch (164 years after the American Revolution). In one half the President's a creep, in the other he doesn't lead so much as schmooze and liquor up. That so much of the meeting's success would hinge on the eating of a hot dog further deflates its legitimacy.

No President or American icon, regardless of how sacred, should solely be lionized – especially where hypocrises and moral failings exist. Those failings are worth exploring and putting into a broader context of history, but Hyde Park on Hudson attempts to do so via all the wrong choices – narrative, thematic, and otherwise.

In the end we’re not left with a better understanding of our longest-serving President, only a very distasteful one. I may now know a little bit more about what FDR did privately, but I feel as if I understand him less.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Fairly frequent cigarette smoking. Several instances of drinking alcohol, including mixed drinks.
  • Language/Profanity: Three uses of the D-word. One SOB.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Masturbation strongly implied (a woman’s hand goes inside a man’s trousers, hand movement briefly seen, expressions on both people’s faces, arm motions). Multiple adulterous relationships, all of which are ultimately condoned or at least sympathized with. Some kissing and embracing. A couple of discreet innuendos.

Publication date: December 7, 2012