Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

Bill Murray has been one of my favorite comic actors since the days he was on Saturday Night Live opposite such luminaries as Gilda Radner and John Belushi...Anybody remember "Cheeboorger, Cheeboorger, no fries, cheeps, no Coke, Petsi!"?

In the last few years, in spite of a truly funny bit as himself in the hilarious film "Zombieland", Murray has turned to more serious work, such as "Lost in Translation."  His range as an actor is truly remarkable.

"Hyde Park on Hudson", which came out in late 2012, earned him a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Now I admit, even I thought the role of FDR, such an iconic American, would not be a good match for Murray's "everyman" style, but I am happy to admit I was wrong.

I watched the film last night.  It is a delightful film in giving the viewer a glimpse of the world not seen in the newsreels of the day.  The action takes place at his ancestral home, Hyde Park, located on the Hudson River.  Though he lives at the White House, in the days prior to Camp David, FDR goes home to Hyde Park to relax.

In 1939, he was visited there by the King and Queen of England.  They hoped to enlist the help of the US in their growing war with the Axis powers.

The film takes place primarily during the weekend of the royal visit, a tumultuous time with reporters following the President and the Royals all over the estate.  A series of flashbacks establish FDR's relationship with his 5th cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), who lives in a small house on the estate.

Commanded by his domineering mother to come and provide companionship for FDR, Daisy begins by talking to him and taking long rides on the vast estate with him in his specially equipped car.  By that time in his life, FDR was unable to walk due to polio.  The car worked with all controls being manipulated by his hands.

More and more, Daisy, a shy woman, enjoys the rides and his company.  Eventually, they become lovers. 

FDR, according to history, liked women and had several lovers throughout his marriage to his cousin Eleanor.  The love of his life was Lucy Mercer Rutherford, formerly Eleanor's social secretary.  When Eleanor found out about their affair, she refused any longer to share his bed.  A divorce was considered, but that would have ruined his political aspirations.  So they stayed together and led separate lives.

In the film, they have long been apart.  He has his favorites and Eleanor has a female companion.  It is blatantly discussed behind closed doors that she is a "she-male".  She is also portrayed as a confrontational person who arranges for the King and Queen to dine on hot dogs at a picnic on the last day of their visit.  She also calls them Bertie and Elizabeth, something their British subjects would never dare to do.

Daisy is confronted with the fact that her presidential cousin has other women, a painful reality for her.  She is the subject of gossip for the first time in her quiet life.  There is a scene where Bertie and Elizabeth are spying on FDR from the house and gossiping about Daisy. Eventually, she learns to cope with the situation, befriending her main rival for his affections.

This film is an intimate drama with comic moments.  When he catches the Royals spying on him from their bedroom window, FDR inquires if they slept well, and then invites the King for a swim.  This is the British king portrayed in the great film "The King's Speech."  He stutters in this film as is historically accurate.  The King and FDR spend a magical time sans the reporters, who have been forbidden to follow, in the secluded swimming pool.  FDR can forget about his withered legs for a brief time.  Bertie can just enjoy being away from all intrusion and be himself.  (Of course today the paparazzi would hide in the bushes and use long lens cameras to get their pictures.)  In those days, the press was respectful of the office of the president.  It was not known about FDR's women until many years after his death.

Samuel West plays a convincing "Bertie" in the film, with all the frustration of his stuttering and the comparisons made between him and his brother who abdicated the throne for the "woman I love."

As Elizabeth, later known in our world as the Queen Mum, Olivia Coleman is an elegant woman out of her element with hot dogs and American Indian entertainment.  She portrays the Queen as a woman with a highly developed sense of self and a great love of gossip.

Olivia Williams plays Eleanor as a robust no-nonsense woman who isn't ashamed of her lifestyle (remember this was 1939.)  She also puts her domineering mother-in-law in her place, apparently a feat few could accomplish.

This is a wonderful, cohesive cast.  But the stars are clearly Bill Murray and Laura Linney.  As FDR, Murray does not ape his patrician accent.  Instead he uses it subtly - just enough to suggest the man we've heard in films of his speeches and fireside chats.  He is wonderful at portraying FDR's reported enthusiasm and ebullience.  He also shows a side of the president tired from his disability and the heavy weight of his responsibilities.

Laura Linney is excellent as Daisy, a women who has been subjugated all her life, yet with a spark of rebellion in her.  She forces FDR to apologize at one point, probably something he rarely did.

The film concludes with the end of the royal visit and a spoken epilogue.  Daisy lived to be 100 years old, still in the small house at Hyde Park.  After her death, a locked box of letters was found under her bed.  They were love letters between her and FDR.  The secret came out at last.

Oh, and when FDR died suddenly in Warm Springs, GA, of a massive stroke, Lucy Mercer Rutherford was with him.  Eleanor was not.

If you're in the mood for a historical drama, check this one out.  It's much lighter than "Lincoln" or "Les Miz."  It's a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes.

Until next time, watch and listen to what you love!  For me, tonight it's going to be "Game of Thrones."  Go get 'em with your army and your dragons, Dani!!!

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to see this one, Sharon. I came from NY's Hudsn valley and have been to Hyde Park many times. I ws always struck by FDR's childhood bedroom. With it's bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and stark furnishings, it looks more like a cell than a young boy's room.It's in sharp contrast to the sitting room, which is festooned with matching flowers on the wallpaper, upholstery, chandelier and candlesticks. Very froo-froo.