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Hyde Park on Hudson should have beentitled Handjob on Hudson. The most demurely shot jerk-off in cinematic history—a field of flowers! participants dressed to the nines!—is the only remotely interesting part of Roger Michell’s (Morning Glory, Notting Hill) film about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his “fifth or sixth cousin” mistress, Daisy. Bill Murray’s performance as the polio-ridden FDR? Serviceable but generally unimpressive. And Laura Linney’s Daisy should be classified as a sleep aid.
The story, by first-time feature writer Richard Nelson, takes place mostly over one weekend in 1939, when World War II was looming and England’s royals, King George VI, or “Bertie” (the same stuttering king portrayed in The King’s Speech, here played by Samuel West) and his wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), visited FDR’s Upstate New York retreat. Before that, though, Roosevelt had gotten cozy with his cousin, warming her up by showing her see his stamp collection, and—on a particularly steamy drive—placing his hand on her knee. Their encounter progresses from there. Daisy’s essentially always just on call, however, because of Roosevelt’s wife (Olivia Williams) and, it turns out, other mistresses. And there can’t be any impropriety when the king’s around.
Hyde Park on Hudson is based on the real Daisy’s letters, found after her death. Therefore Michell and Nelson chose to lace the film with her narration, and boy, Linney’s never been flatter: “Time. Passed,” her Daisy intones, giving nearly her entire voiceover the same slow, staid treatment. “He tried to make me laugh,” Daisy says at one point. “And he was very good at that.” Really? Let’s see some evidence.
Livelier scenes involve the royals—though one extended look at Roosevelt and Bertie swimming is a useless snooze—including a heart-to-heart the two men have after dinner and drinks. Bertie later tells Elizabeth that his new pal is a “funny man—wonderful stories,” though anyone who’s seen Lincoln will attest that if Roosevelt is a good presidential storyteller, on celluloid he’s a distant second to Ol’ Abe.
Bertie and Elizabeth also provide the film’s only comic relief, registering horror about, for example, a satirical painting portraying the English army as monkeys, or the fact that hot dogs will be served at a barbecue in their honor. When a traditional Indian dance is performed at said barbeque, Colman’s Elizabeth couldn’t look more bored. (To be fair, all the other guests seem to be only feigning interest as well.) Much is made of Bertie trying a hot dog, another scene that goes on for too long, even though the film is a should-be-brisk 94 minutes.
Yet for all its meandering, Hyde Park’s conclusion feels rushed, with Daisy narrating everything the film should have shown. A film about an affair shouldn’t feel like an endless drive to a field of flowers.