Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney. Written by Richard Nelson. Directed by Roger Michell. PG. 95 min. Opens Dec. 14.
Early in Hyde Park on Hudson, Bill Murray’s aging Franklin Delano Roosevelt enjoys a hand-job from his future mistress (played by Laura Linney) in a parked car to the mellow strains of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” That seems to suggest we’re about to witness a witty, irreverent take on the much-admired 32nd U.S. president. Not quite true. Murray’s FDR certainly is witty—and the highlight of the movie—but director Roger Michell’s nostalgia-drenched biopic is very much a lightweight, soft-focus treatment of the man. As presented by Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson, the president’s robust libido and serial adultery are part of what makes him so lovably flawed and human. Bill Clinton can only hope for such a posthumous spin.
The film is narrated by Linney’s Daisy (loosely based on the real Margaret Suckley), a distant cousin of FDR’s who is unexpectedly summoned to his country home in Hyde Park, N.Y., in the spring of 1939. He needs a diversion from the headaches of the Great Depression and an impending war in Europe, and humble Daisy suits his fancy. But the shy spinster’s growing love for the president is put to the test on the momentous weekend when King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) pay an unprecedented visit to suss out U.S. support in the event of war.
Murray, sporting a pince-nez, liver spots, and an upper-crust accent, twinkles merrily as a beleaguered but buoyant Roosevelt. It’s just his bad luck that he’ll be overshadowed this Oscar season by Daniel Day-Lewis’s tour de force as another great president in Lincoln. And West and Colman, while amusingly awkward as the young royals, can’t escape the shade of Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, who played the same roles to perfection in The King’s Speech. But at least they have fun with their hopeless task. Linney’s Daisy, by contrast, is a dull and earnest wallflower whose Cinderella story is much less compelling than it’s meant to be.